WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A man who flew to West Palm Beach despite knowing he was infected with coronavirus has been banned from any future flights with JetBlue.
The man is currently being isolated after arriving Wednesday night at Palm Beach International Airport aboard a JetBlue flight, according to the Florida Department of Health.
JetBlue flight 253 landed at 8:53 p.m. from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, but the airplane remained on the tarmac instead of proceeding to gate C12.
Passengers departed the aircraft around 10:45 p.m.
On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health released this statement about the incident:
"The Florida Department of Health was made aware that a passenger traveling through the Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19. Upon being notified, the Department immediately began working with the CDC to conduct an extensive epidemiological investigation to determine which passengers may have had close contact with the individual. Any individual who is a close contact with this individual will be informed to self-monitor and will be contacted further by the Palm Beach County Health Department. The individual who tested positive is isolated at this time."
JetBlue released this statement on Thursday:
"The health and safety of our customers and crewmembers is our first priority. In reviewing last night’s event, we determined the customer boarded our flight knowing he was awaiting results for a coronavirus test without disclosing it to anyone at JetBlue. Consistent with CDC guidance, we ask all customers who are not feeling well, who believe they may have coronavirus, or who are awaiting test results to avoid travel until they are cleared by a medical professional. Last night’s event put our crewmembers, customers, and federal and local officials in an unsettling situation that could have easily been avoided, and as such, this customer will not be permitted to fly on JetBlue in the future."
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Albert Borroto said passengers near the unidentified COVID-19 patient on the plane were told to self-monitor for any symptoms.
"The person across the way from me was taken to the back of the plane," passenger Scott Rodman said. "He was wearing masks and gloves. His wife was sitting in the same row as me and mentioned to others that he wasn't feeling well. She said he had gotten a phone call with his test results right before we had taken off, implying that he had a positive test but not actually saying it."
Remaining passengers were released and given directions by Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director in Palm Beach County, to call the health department with any concerns.
"An individual on this flight got a text that he tested positive for the coronavirus," Alonso told passengers at the airport. "He has not been coughing or sneezing or anything on the plane. At this point, you're free to walk around and move around because, most likely, you're not going to have anything because there was no activity. The way you get this virus is somebody has to cough or sneeze on you."
At least one passenger on the flight said the whole thing is unsettling.
"I don't feel good about it," Rodman said. "The guy was sitting, you know, 5 feet from me, and his wife was sitting 2 feet from me, so no, I'm not feeling great about it."
PBIA sterilized the limited-containment area where the passengers deplaned, which was a separate location from the main terminals of the airport.
On Thursday morning, hazardous materials crews wearing white and yellow protective suits could be seen going on and off the aircraft carrying bags.
The health department released the following statement:
"The Florida Department of Health is working closely with all our state, federal and local public health partners to effectively limit any further spread of COVID-19.
Airports are under federal jurisdiction and travel investigation for health is handled by the CDC. When the CDC has identified a person who was contagious while flying, the CDC investigates to determine which other travelers may have had close contact with the person. If those travelers are Florida residents, the CDC provides that information to the Florida Department of Health. The state or local health departments then contact each exposed passenger to verify their health status and provide guidance.
Passengers who were in close contact with this individual were immediately informed to self-monitor and contact their local County Health Department or medical provider if they become symptomatic. The Palm Beach County Health Department is working with every affected passenger to ensure that the appropriate CDC guidelines are followed and that they have the most up-to-date information available regarding the appropriate steps to follow. The individual who tested positive is isolated.
While this is an ongoing epidemiological investigation and we are currently unable to provide additional details, the Department remains committed to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring every exposed individual receives the care and has access to the resources needed to successfully recover without risk of further spread."
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