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Health officials defend coronavirus response at Palm Beach International Airport

Posted at 3:07 PM, Mar 13, 2020

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Health officials say proper protocols were followed earlier this week when a JetBlue passenger infected with COVID-19 arrived on a flight at Palm Beach International Airport.

JetBlue flight 253 landed around 9 p.m. Wednesday from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Florida Department of Health said the infected patient is now in isolation, however some people are concerned that many passengers on the aircraft were allowed to leave without being quarantined.

"It is completely safe and we would not put anybody out into the community if it was going to cause more harm," said Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director of Palm Beach County, at a news conference on Friday. "Those people were treated exactly the way with the protocol. The protocol for an airline is very different from the ships. We're not gonna fly people around for three weeks and then land them off where they belong."


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Dr. Alonso said the proper guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were followed at the airport on Wednesday night.

"With an airplane, what we do is we look at two rows behind the person, two rows in front of the person, two rows to either side. That's exactly what we did." said Dr. Alonso. "I personally saw every single person in that airplane. I interviewed and examined the passenger that was ill. He had no symptoms. The passenger had no symptoms at all."

The doctor said the infected passenger will be quarantined for at least 14 days.

"He was appropriately sent to his home," said Dr. Alonso. "The people surrounding him were appropriately told to monitor for any symptoms. That's exactly what we did. And the rest of the people that were not in that vicinity of the passenger were then released from the airplane and sent home. And I spoke to each one of them, I answered all the questions that they had. Most people, despite this being a horrific, scary situation were very grateful."

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JetBlue announced on Thursday that the infected patient has been banned from all future JetBlue flights after he "boarded our flight knowing he was awaiting results for a coronavirus test without disclosing it to anyone at JetBlue."

In a statement, the airline said the man's decision "put our crew members, 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."