A fourth person in Broward County has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the third case that has been traced to Metro Cruise Services, which operates out of Port Everglades, state officials announced early Tuesday morning.
The Florida Department of Health said the new case was a 69-year-old woman in a 1 a.m. news release that also included an advisory extending to anyone experiencing symptoms who has recently traveled through the bustling port. The health department said those people should contact their healthcare provider or county health department and self-isolate for 14 days.
The three port cases are all “connected to or employed by” Metro Cruise Services, the health department said. Employees of that company at the Broward County port “with any association to these cases” should self-isolate at home while monitoring themselves for symptoms, health officials said.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which sails out of Port Everglades, said it does not contract with Metro Cruise Services. Carnival Corporation, which also sails out of Port Everglades, did not respond to requests for comment about whether they contract Metro Cruise Services.
Metro Cruise Services released a statement late Tuesday, writing that it had been notified by public health authorities that three part-time employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The affected employees work at various Port Everglades terminals providing luggage services, the statement said.
“We were unaware that any of our part-time employees were sick until we were notified by the authorities,” said company president Anthony Newman via the release. “We then immediately notified all of our Port Everglades employees that one of their associates had tested positive and advised them that, if they have any symptoms, they should seek medical assistance and not report to work. We are assisting all relevant governmental agencies with their inquiries and instructions. The health and safety of our workforce and those they encounter remain our top priority.”
Metro Cruise Services posted a job opening last month on LinkedIn for part-time “Cruise Line Agents” to work at Port Everglades for Carnival-owned Princess Cruises. The company described itself as “the ground handler that works with Princess Cruises in Port Everglades” in the job listing, and said agents would be paid $11 an hour. Tasks include helping guests board transportation from the airport, assisting check-in for their cruise, and finding their luggage when they return from their trip.
As of Tuesday, the job listing is accepting applications.
The state said it was working to contact employees and others who may have come into contact with the three people who tested positive for COVID-19.
Company president Anthony Newman has not responded to calls and an email from the Miami Herald.
On Sunday, Florida health officials announced a third positive COVID-19 test in Broward County, a 67-year-old man, and said two of the cases were connected to Port Everglades, but did not specify Metro Cruise Services. The other two Broward cases, announced late Friday night, involved a 65-year-old man and a 75-year-old man.
That came one day after Gov. Ron DeSantis said that an older male worker who had contact with cruise line passengers at the port tested positive for COVID-19. DeSantis said the man worked “checking people off ships.” A spokeswoman for the port said the man worked to help passengers navigate the port for a contractor hired by cruise lines to provide guidance and greetings to passengers.
On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines advising recent cruise passengers to monitor their health for 14 days and immediately self-isolate, then contact the appropriate medical professional if they start to feel symptoms.
But even with the heightened focus and constant headlines on cruise ships becoming vectors for the highly contagious novel coronavirus, passengers on cruise lines appeared undeterred just hours before the state made its late Tuesday morning announcement.
That included an 83-year-old South Carolina woman who belonged to one of the most at-risk groups for COVID-19: people above the age of 80. She said nothing was going to stop her from attending her godson’s wedding with 70 other friends and family members in the Cayman Islands this week.
There are now 20 known COVID-19 cases with Florida ties. In addition to the 15 people diagnosed in Florida, five were “repatriated,” or diagnosed and isolated in another state.
As of 9 p.m. Monday, the state said it had received 140 negative test results and that 115 tests were still pending. That means, including the positive cases, the state has run at least 270 novel coronavirus tests since public health labs in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville began testing on Feb. 29.
Florida has a 24/7 hotline set up for people who think they might be suffering from COVID-19. The phone number is 866-779-6121, or you can email COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was updated to include a statement from Metro One Cruises and to clarify which cruise lines sail from Port Everglades.
Miami Herald staff writers Taylor Dolven, Alex Harris, Michelle Marchante and David Smiley contributed to this report