MIAMI — As the Zaandam cruise ship travels toward Florida with four dead passengers and 179 others with flu-like symptoms, Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted Monday that the passengers cannot be "dumped" in his state.
"We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources," DeSantis said on Fox News. "We view this as a big, big problem, and we do not want to see people dumped in Southern Florida right now."
He said that only 33 percent of hospital beds in Florida are available and that field hospitals have been set up in case there is a surge in coronavirus patients.
At a news conference, DeSantis said later that he was worried that if people disembark in Port Everglades, they will use up Florida hospitals' scarce resources.
So far, two passengers have tested positive for COVID-19. Four doctors and four nurses are aboard.
The vessel, operated by Carnival Corp.'s Holland America Line, left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was scheduled to end its voyage in Chile on March 21. Passengers were supposed to have disembarked in Punta Arenas, Chile, for flights home but were turned away.
Because all ports along the ship's route are closed to cruise ships, Holland America deployed its sister ship, the Rotterdam, where asymptomatic passengers were transferred over the weekend. Over 1,200 passengers have been confined to their cabins for the past week.
Both ships finished sailing through the Panama Canal on Monday morning after having been granted permission by Panama's government and are heading toward Florida. They are expected to reach the coast by Wednesday.
DeSantis said he is in contact with the White House as both vessels approach.
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Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., called the situation "absolutely horrific" in a statement.
"If this ship docks in Florida, the federal government must work with the state so every passenger gets tested for Coronavirus," the statement said.
Scott added that all passengers must be quarantined for 14 days, even if they show no symptoms.
The mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Dean Trantalis, near Port Everglades, was also hesitant about the ship's docking at the port, citing risk to his community.
"No assurances have been given that they will be escorted from the ship to either a treatment facility or placed in quarantine. This is completely unacceptable!" Trantalis said in a statement Sunday.
Some passengers on the Zaandam and their relatives have pleaded for help.
In a tweet Monday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thanked the government of Panama for allowing the vessels to sail through the Panama Canal "so that we can safely bring hundreds of #AmericansHome."