JetBlue passenger diagnosed with coronavirus flew 'knowing' he could have virus, airline says

JetBlue has now banned the passenger.

March 13, 2020, 12:45 AM

A passenger on a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to Palm Beach, Florida, has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

The plane landed around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. The crew and 114 passengers were stuck on the tarmac for hours as health officials spoke to everyone on board.

Passengers who were near the infected person were given instructions on how to monitor their health over the next few days. They were allowed to leave the airport without seeing a doctor.

PHOTO: A newly developed SARS CoV-2 detection kit by University of the Philippines scientists is shown during a press conference in Quezon city, Philippines, Thursday, March 12, 2020.
A newly developed SARS CoV-2 detection kit by University of the Philippines scientists is shown during a press conference in Quezon city, Philippines, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The group said the kit will help in the early detection and effective treatment of the COVID-19 in the country. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte would be tested for the new coronavirus Thursday after he met Cabinet officials who were exposed to infected people and have now self-quarantined, official said.
Aaron Favila/AP

"At this time passengers in the vicinity of the positive patient were advised of monitoring procedures," Palm Beach County Fire Rescue said in a statement. "The rest of the passengers were released to go home" and given directions to call the health department with any medical concerns.

JetBlue said the infected passenger flew on the plane despite "knowing he was awaiting results for a coronavirus test" and that he didn't disclose this to any airline officials.

The passenger, the airline said, is permanently barred from all JetBlue flights.

"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," the company said in a statement Thursday.

Customers who are not feeling well, or who believe they may have COVID-19 should not travel until cleared by a medical professional, JetBlue said in a statement.

Airline workers in Florida sterilized the "limited containment area" where the passengers deplaned, which officials said is a separate area from the airport's main terminals.

The Florida Department of Health said the coronavirus positive patient is in isolation at this time and that those who were in close contact with him will be monitored and contacted by county health officials.

Back in New York, airline workers conducted their usual twice daily "enhanced cleaning protocols ... of all common and high-touchpoint areas with EPA-approved and CDC-endorsed antiviral disinfectants, in addition to overnight deep cleaning of all terminal areas," according to a statement from the Port Authority on Thursday.

Additionally, "JetBlue immediately commenced additional cleaning of the Gate 7 area, where the flight departed, as well as surrounding gates, the security checkpoints, check-in counters and kiosks, elevators, restrooms and any other area the passenger went through based on security camera footage," Port Authority said.

"The health and safety of our customers and crew members is our top priority," JetBlue said in a statement on Thursday. "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."

At least 127,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus globally with at least 4,717 deaths reported. In the U.S., there are 1,663 confirmed cases and 40 coronavirus-related deaths.

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday night that he was severely restricting air travel for 30 days from most of Europe as Italy and other countries battle to contain the outbreak. The new regulations begin Friday.

The European Union issued a statement Thursday, saying Trump's Europe travel ban is wrong and won't work.

"The coronavirus is a global crisis not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," the E.U. said in a statement Thursday. "The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation. The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."

JetBlue is currently waiving change and cancellation fees to allow customers the opportunity to change or pause their travel plans if needed.

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