Cruise ship with possibly ill passengers lands in Atlanta; some travelers allowed to head home

©TheAtlantaJournalConstitution

ATLANTA — At least 300 cruise ship passengers who had been stranded at sea due to the coronavirus were flown to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday. But it wasn’t known late Friday whether any of those passengers would be quarantined or allowed to travel home.

Several people aboard the Costa Luminosa, owned by the Miami-based Carnival Corp., reportedly had coronavirus-related symptoms. But the ship was prohibited from stopping in ports due to the pandemic.

Of the 359 on the plane, three passengers tested positive for the coronavirus but have no symptoms, according to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. Another 13 people were ill.

It was the second time in 10 days that stranded cruise passengers were brought to Georgia. Last week, hundreds of passengers from the Grand Princess ship were brought to Dobbins Air Force Base in Cobb County to be quarantined.

On Thursday, some Luminosa passengers were allowed to disembark in France, according to a statement from Carnival. Americans and Canadians were then flown to Atlanta. Carnival said 246 Americans and 70 Canadians were aboard the flight, for a total of 316 — 43 less than the number from Kemp’s office.

It was not known late Friday why there was a discrepancy in the number of passengers.

“As a precaution, all guests were fitted with medical masks and gloves by onboard medical staff before receiving approval from French authorities to disembark and proceed to Marseille Provence Airport for departure to the U.S.,” Carnival said in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

Even as passengers fell ill with COVID-19, the Costa Luminosa was slow to act to prevent infections, despite two previous serious outbreaks on its parent company’s ships.

During the flight to Atlanta, two guests from Florida and one from Massachusetts were confirmed positive for the coronavirus, the cruise line said. But one couple on the flight told The AJC they weren’t told there were positive cases on the plane.

“You didn’t know if you were sitting next to the person who tested positive,” Emilio Hernandez said Friday night.

After landing, passengers and their relatives complained of having little to no food on the plane. There many ill people on the flight, Hernandez said.

At the airport, all passengers entered a hangar for additional screening, Kemp’s office said. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the flight was diverted to a remote part of the airport. The three who previously tested positive were separated from other passengers.

One passenger required further evaluation and was taken to a local hospital for treatment, HHS said.

The CDC was assisting with the screenings. “Passengers with no symptoms upon arrival were given health information advising them to stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing as they continued to their final destination,” HHS said in an emailed statement.

Meanwhile, passengers were allowed to leave and book additional flights home, according to those on the flight and other family members.

“I was on that flight,” Barbara Hernandez, Emilio’s wife, posted on a Facebook page for cruise passengers. “I am extremely upset at so many passengers whom left that flight after clearing CDC and immediately removed their mask. I saw them at the TSA line without a mask possibly infecting other people. Very selfish since we were all told to keep our mask on and to self quarantine.”

Barbara and Emilio, who previously lived St. Simon’s Island, recently retired to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The couple was shocked they were allowed to leave Atlanta and catch a flight home.

“We wanted to be tested,” she said. “We thought we were going to be quarantined.”

Julie Nemelka, who lives in Utah, was expecting her parents to have to spend 14 days in Georgia after getting off the flight. Instead, by late Friday afternoon, the couple was on a flight back to Salt Lake City.

“I’m really surprised that the CDC did not keep them there,” she said. “Why didn’t they at least keep them away from the population in airport?”

Family members of those aboard the cruise and flight to Atlanta were using social media for updates. Alan Pavkovic told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution his parents, who live in South Florida, boarded the Costa Luminosa on March 5 in Fort Lauderdale.

He last spoke to the couple on March 8, and Pavkovic said he wasn’t sure whether the two were on the flight to Atlanta. “I’m assuming they were on the flight, but I have not heard from them,” he said.

“My brother and I are getting increasingly worried. It’s just a nightmare.” By early Friday afternoon, Marin and Angela Pavkovic were able to let their adults sons know they were in Atlanta. The couple has no coronavirus symptoms and booked a flight to return home.

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©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)