Passenger on New York-Palm Beach Flight Tests Positive

Jet Blue Airlines Airbus landing at West Palm Beach, Florida. (Alec Wilso)

A passenger on a JetBlue flight that arrived at Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19 and other passengers were advised to monitor their health according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines, authorities said Thursday.

Rescue crews were notified at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday of a medical incident on board the flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to Palm Beach Fire Capt. Albert Borroto. The plane arrived at 8:53 p.m. and passengers sat on the tarmac until about 10:45 p.m.

The passengers eventually deplaned in a “limited containment area,” separate from the airport’s main terminals, Borroto said in an email.

County health workers assessed the ill passenger and spoke with everyone else on the flight, advising them to follow CDC guidance and contact health officials with any medical concerns. Airport officials then sterilized the containment area, Borroto said.

Scott Rodman, a passenger on Flight 253, told WPTV that the man was wearing a mask and gloves.

“The person across the way from me was taken to the back of the plane,” Rodman said.

On Florida’s West Coast, school officials in Tampa closed Farnell Middle School through Friday after a person who is regularly on campus had recent contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Hillsborough County Public Schools announced on its website.

School officials say that person currently has no symptoms and the school is being closed “out of an abundance of caution” so the everything can be deep cleaned.

Late Wednesday and early Thursday, the Florida Department of Health announced six more cases of COVID-19. They included a 61-year-old male in Broward County whose travel-related case is associated with the Port Everglades cruise ship terminal. Two more — a 65-year-old Broward man and a 57-year old Lee County man, are being investigated to see if they are travel-related.

The other three latest cases include a 63-year-old New York resident who is currently in St. John’s County after visiting Florida for Bike Week, a 56-year-old Miami-Dade County resident who had recently traveled to Iran and a 70-year-old Broward County resident who attended a recent Emergency Medical Services conference in Tampa.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but it can cause more severe illness including pneumonia in older adults and people with existing health problems. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus within weeks.

There are currently 26 cases of Florida residents diagnosed in the state, five other Florida residents are self-isolating out of state after being diagnosed elsewhere, the health department said. Additionally, a 22-year-old California woman who traveled to Italy with her sister is self-isolating with her in Tampa.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said 10 of the positive cases — including one of the fatalities, a 71-year-old man from Santa Rosa County — involved people returning from a cruise on the Nile River in Egypt.

Meanwhile, public universities across Florida — which have some of the country’s largest enrollments — will move to remote instruction effective Monday. That step is intended to minimize health and safety risks to students and staff, especially as they prepare to return from spring break.

The governor said Thursday he directed the corrections secretary to suspend visitations at state prisons for 30 days, with the exception of legal visits. Inmates can still receive mail, phone calls and use video chat.

The governor has also ordered Florida’s nursing homes and other assisted living facilities to prohibit visitors who recently arrived from a foreign country in an attempt to protect the state’s sizable and vulnerable elderly population from the new coronavirus. DeSantis noted that most of the Florida infections from the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, stemmed from international travel.

DeSantis has also suspended all official travel for state employees for 30 days and recommended local governments and private entities to strongly considering limits or postponing mass gatherings in the state.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Thursday he was canceling several events, such as a county fair.

“I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of this as people get exposed,” DeSantis said Thursday at a press conference in Miami. “We also understand that if more people get infected without changes in behavior or other types of changes in policies that is going to put an enormous amount of stress on our health care system.”

As a further precaution, the governor also urged elections officials to move any polling places that might be located at nursing homes or other facilities that house or care for the elderly.

Florida holds its presidential primary on Tuesday.