The new directive released on March 29 was signed by Coast Guard Rear Admiral Eric Jones, whose district includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico. The measure applies to all ships – not just cruise liners – carrying more than 50 people. 

Under the new rules, cruise ships are required to give daily reports on their coronavirus caseload, and vessels registered to foreign countries should try to evacuate to their respective points of origin.

“This is necessary as shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effectively treat additional critically-ill patients,” the memo states.

If a patient is too sick for the cruise line to care for on board, the crew has to get approval from the Coast Guard before moving that person to hospital – and they must first guarantee there will actually be a bed waiting for them.

Cruise ships off the coast of Florida are having an especially hard time in the midst of the pandemic, with Governor Rick DeSantis arguing the state does not have the hospital capacity to treat any incoming patients. 

“Just to drop people off at the place where we’re having the highest number of cases right now just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said.

Dozens of ships are waiting at sea, especially in the Port Miami and Port Everglades areas. Two Holland America cruise ships, the Zaandam and Rotterdam, have been trying to negotiate docking in Port Everglades. Four people have died on the Zaandam amid a coronavirus outbreak on the vessel, with two of those deaths being blamed on Covid-19, according to the cruise company. Almost 200 others on board are reportedly displaying symptoms of the highly contagious disease.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said he would speak with DeSantis to make a decision about the vessels docking.

“They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I’m going to do what’s right. Not only for us, but for humanity.”

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