Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Jan. 31, 2023

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Passenger livestreams removal from cruise ship after she claims COVID mix-up

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In a 20-minute video rant, a passenger describes how she and her friend were kicked off a Royal Caribbean International cruise last week after she tested positive for COVID-19 on the second day — and she blames the cruise line for a mix-up.

The passengers, both unvaccinated, said that during the boarding process in Miami on July 5 the company mistakenly gave them purple bracelets meant for vaccinated passengers that serve as entry passes to areas of the Freedom of the Seas ship where only the inoculated are allowed. They said that when the company realized its mistake on July 7, staff members made them take COVID-19 tests. One of those tests came back positive.

In interviews with the Herald, both passengers said they are angry about how the company treated them. The company disembarked the passengers in Nassau, The Bahamas, and flew them back to their homes in the U.S. The ship continued on its four-night cruise and returned to PortMiami on Friday.

“I just wanted to go away,” said Laura Angelo, 57, the passenger who tested positive. “My favorite body of water is Nassau’s, all I wanted to do was go swim in the water in Nassau, and it was ripped away.”

Angelo posted a Facebook live video of herself and her travel partner Valerie Murphy, 62, being escorted off the ship in Nassau. Angelo rails against Royal Caribbean, dropping profanities as she is escorted off the ship by crew in full protective suits.

Royal Caribbean Group spokesperson Jonathon Fishman did not respond to questions about the passengers’ claim that the company misidentified them as vaccinated passengers. He said 90% of the passengers and crew on the ship were vaccinated, and close contacts of the two passengers tested negative.

“These two guests provided a negative PCR test at check-in but did not take part in the required boarding day test per our policy for unvaccinated guests,” he said in an email. “Once this was recognized, we immediately made the guests aware and tested them on board.”

Angelo told the Herald she was never asked to take a COVID test during the boarding process.

The July 5 Freedom of the Seas cruise was only Royal Caribbean International’s second since the company restarted operations in the U.S. on July 2. Cruises have been canceled since companies shut down operations in March 2020 after COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths on several ships.

Companies operating in Florida have had to navigate a fine line between trying to make sure the cruises are as safe as possible and complying with Florida’s newly passed law that bars them from requiring passengers show proof of vaccination.

Royal Caribbean International recommends all passengers on Florida cruises be vaccinated, but doesn’t require it. The company requires unvaccinated passengers to pay for COVID-19 tests and prohibits them from participating in certain ship activities. Starting next month, unvaccinated passengers on Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line ships leaving from Florida ports will be required to purchase travel insurance.

The week before the friends boarded the Freedom of the Seas ship, Angelo said a Royal Caribbean International employee called her and asked her if she and Murphy had been vaccinated. When she said no, the employee said they would have to present a negative PCR test on embarkation day taken within 72 hours of boarding.

During the boarding process at PortMiami on July 5, Angelo and Murphy said that they presented their passports and negative COVID-19 test results to the check-in agent, and then he gave them the plastic purple wristbands to wear. Angelo said she asked him twice if the wristbands were for unvaccinated passengers, and he said yes. The friends boarded the cruise ship, and followed the other passengers wearing purple bracelets to the bar for a drink before eating dinner and going to sleep.

The next day, Angelo and Murphy said they noticed a group of four to six security guards near them while they were on the pool deck. When they were waiting for the elevator, one of the security guards asked them for their room number, and then asked if they were vaccinated, they said. When they replied no, the security guard said they needed to go to the medical center for a COVID-19 test. After being held in the medical center for more than two hours, the passengers said they were allowed to return to their room and await the results.

The medical staff called and informed them that Angelo’s test came back positive and Murphy’s was inconclusive. When the staff ran Murphy’s test again, it came back negative. Angelo said she asked for a second test and asked to be able to watch the results be processed, but the medical team declined.

The ship staff, wearing full personal protective equipment, escorted Angelo and Murphy off the ship in Nassau and onto an ambulance that transported them to a private jet. They flew to Fort Lauderdale to drop off Murphy and then New York City to drop off Angelo.

Angelo said she had COVID-19 in March, and had tested negative three times since April. Since returning home to New York last week, she said she has tested negative three more times.

“I feel they didn’t want us on the ship telling our story,” she said.

The snafu comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is fighting in federal court to keep its COVID-19 safety regulations in place for cruise companies operating in Florida. In a recent court fling, the CDC’s maritime unit director Aimee Treffiletti said agency inspectors flagged similar mistakes during Freedom of the Seas’ test cruise with volunteer passengers in late June, including failure to keep passengers with positive test results distanced from passengers cleared for embarkation during boarding.

Murphy said the cruise was a present from Angelo to celebrate her birthday. She knew about the restrictions and extra hurdles for unvaccinated passengers before the cruise and said she was happy to comply with them. She does not plan to cruise again any time soon.

“If we had been given the proper entry, the right bracelets, we would have followed protocol as it was given to us,” she said. “The ship was making it up as they went. Their employees were not ready.”

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