A man who was waiting to get results from his coronavirus screening boarded a plane from New York to Florida Wednesday night and then learned he tested positive during the flight.
The 114 passengers, who boarded at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, waited nearly two hours before being allowed to disembark their JetBlue flight at West Palm Beach airport at 10:53 p.m., NBC-affiliate WPTV reported.
The infected passenger boarded the plane wearing a mask and gloves, according to WPTV.
“He was wearing masks and gloves,” passenger Scott Rodman said. “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. 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.”
Passengers near the unidentified patient on the plane were told to self-monitor for any symptoms, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Capt. Albert Borroto said.
The coronavirus causes COVID-19, short for the respiratory illness coronavirus disease 2019. Its symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. As of Friday, nearly 137,000 cases have been diagnosed worldwide resulting in more than 5,000 deaths.
Nearly 81,000 cases have been confirmed in China, where officials have pinpointed its origin. The United States has more than 1,700 confirmed or presumptive cases, which have resulted in 41 deaths.
The remaining passengers on the JetBlue flight were given instructions in the airport terminal by Palm Beach County Health Director Dr. Alina Alonso.
They were told to call the health department with any concerns before being released.
BREAKING: After flying with a person with COVID-19 coronavirus on JetBlue flight – officials tell passengers on flight they DON’T need to self-quarantine.
— Cristian Benavides (@cbenavidesTV) March 12, 2020
On Thursday, the Palm Beach County Health Department said the infected individual had been isolated.
“The Florida Department of Health was made aware that a passenger traveling through the Palm Beach International Airport tested positive for COVID-19,” the Palm Beach County Health Department said in a statement. “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.”
Jet Blue said it had banned the infected passenger from flying on its airline again.
“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,” airline spokesman Derek Dombrowski told The New York Post.
In a general statement Thursday, JetBlue said it had sanitized the plane and common areas in both JFK and Palm Beach airport terminals and was halting change and cancellation fees so customers could alter travel plans if need be.
“The health and safety of our customers and crewmembers is our top priority,” the statement read. “We’re asking customers who do not feel well or are concerned they may have coronavirus to not fly until cleared to travel by a doctor or health professional. JetBlue is currently waiving change and cancellation fees to allow customers the opportunity to change or pause their travel plans should they need to.”
“In last night’s case, our crewmembers did an incredible job coordinating with health authorities. After health officials allowed customers to disembark, we conducted a thorough sanitizing of the aircraft according to CDC guidance. We have also sanitized common areas in both airport terminals involved.”