BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Hundreds of Carnival cruise ship workers who have tested negative for the coronavirus disease disembarked in New Orleans and are returning to their home countries, the Louisiana governor’s office said Thursday.
The Carnival Valor, a New Orleans-based ship that typically carries about 3,000 guests for Caribbean cruises, didn’t have passengers when it arrived to its home port Wednesday night.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said 300 international crew members without symptoms of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, in addition to testing negative, were being bused to charter flights that would take them to their home countries. Carnival said in a statement that those workers were cleared to fly by immigration authorities.
“Other crew members who have tested positive will stay on the cruise ship. They will not get off, and right now none of those individuals require hospitalization,” the Democratic governor said. “However, if any of them do require hospitalization, we will take those individuals into our hospitals in New Orleans.”
Carnival didn’t immediately answer a question about how many people remained on board the ship Thursday.
The virus outbreak hit the cruise industry particularly hard amid the close confines of packed ships. Edwards provided information about the Valor’s docking plans Wednesday, saying he didn’t want rumors to spread of infected people pouring into hard-hit New Orleans.
Louisiana has seen encouraging signs this week in its fight against the virus outbreak. The rate of new hospitalizations has slowed, and the number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators has decreased.
The governor credits people physically distancing from others and avoiding trips away from their homes as much as possible with helping to slow the rate of new infections — and he’s cautioned Louisianans to keep it up. He’s also warned that until the country finds a virus treatment and vaccine, “I don’t know that you’re going to see life as we knew it before COVID-19.”
More than 18,000 people in Louisiana have confirmed infections of the COVID-19 disease, about 11% of whom are hospitalized, according to health department data. The number of virus patients statewide who needed ventilators fell again Thursday. Of the more than 2,000 virus patients in hospitals, 473 were on ventilators, down from 490 a day earlier.
While the data is starting to look less grim, the number of deaths from the virus continues to climb, reaching 702 on Thursday, an increase of 50 from the prior day.
Drive-thru testing continues to increase. Walmart launched a testing site Wednesday in Shreveport that initially will see first responders, health care workers and individuals over 65 years old who have symptoms, according to Dr. Alex Billioux, head of the state Office of Public Health. A similar drive-thru testing location will open Saturday at Walmart in the hot spot of St. John the Baptist Parish. People who are tested at those locations will be able to use an app to access their results, Billioux said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes symptoms such as high fever and a dry cough that resolve in several weeks. But some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can suffer severe symptoms and require respirators to survive.
Last month, Edwards ordered schools closed, limited restaurants to takeout and delivery and shuttered businesses deemed nonessential, such as gyms, hair salons and bars. Those restrictions remain in place through April.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said while the restrictions are working in New Orleans, “we are very much concerned about what’s happening around us, whether it’s parishes that have taken no action or some actions but lag, or even states around us that have taken no action.”
The shutdowns have caused spiraling unemployment. In Louisiana, 277,000 people have filed unemployment claims since March 1, according to the state, compared to 103,000 for all of 2019.
Louisiana will start handing out new federally financed benefits for those workers Monday. Unemployed workers will receive an extra $600 per week on top of a state unemployment benefit that maxes out at $247, and gig workers and contract employees will be newly eligible, under the aid package passed by Congress.
AP reporter Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans.
By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press