SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — A 71-year-old South San Francisco man died late Saturday night at a Hialeah, Florida, hospital after falling ill with the coronavirus while on a cruise aboard the Coral Princess, authorities said.
Florida authorities said Wilson Maa died after waiting for hours to be evacuated from the ship after it had been finally allowed to dock Saturday in the Port Of Miami. The coronavirus-stricken ship with 1,020 passengers and 878 crew members had been in limbo for days off the Florida coast.
Family members told KPIX that Maa and his wife Toyling had both tested positive for the coronavirus, but early Saturday, Wilson did not feel sick enough to go to the hospital. They stayed aboard the cruise ship.
Hours later, Wilson Maa took a turn for the worse. Family members say the ship’s medical staff refused to call for an ambulance, claiming the hospitals and ambulances in Miami were locked down. The Maa family was frantic. They said they took it upon themselves to call 911. An ambulance arrived quickly and rushed Maa to the hospital Larkin Community Hospital’s Hialeah campus where he died.
Family members were beside themselves with grief, but also became worried about Toyling, who was now also feeling sick. She had tested positive for COVID-19 previously. On Sunday afternoon, an ambulance got her and rushed her to a local hospital along with several other ship’s passengers.
Port officials are still trying to understand what happened to the Maa family. It turns out that ambulances and hospital beds were indeed available Saturday night.
Port spokesperson Andira Muniz-Amador confirmed to KPIX that medical personnel aboard the Carnival cruise ship on Saturday insisted Maa was not in immediate danger. That he was, “stable.”
Carnival Corporation, which owns Princess Cruise Lines, did not comment on the incident.
Maa’s family told the Miami Herald that while five others suffering from the virus were evacuated to hospitals earlier in the day, he was forced to stay aboard, breathing with the aid of a manual ventilator for several hours.
“Doctor insisted that public and private hospital beds with a ventilator are not available,” said Maa’s son-in-law, Jason Chien, told the Herald. “He also says the ship is running low on oxygen but are not able to get a resupply due to the governor or Miami area having a ‘lockdown’ on ambulances or something like that.”
The Maa family, meanwhile released a statement to KPIX:
“We are beyond heartbroken and we will miss our father dearly. He was the best husband, father and gong gong. We are so lucky to have a father that was so silly, fun, engineering minded and thoughtful. There are no words for the sorrow we have experienced but only joy for the memories we had with him.”
Two Coral Princess passengers died on Friday night before the ship was allowed to dock. The ship had been on a South American cruise that was due to end March 19 in Buenos Aires. Since then, the ship has encountered obstacles to docking because of various port closures and cancellation of airline flights.
Passengers have self-isolated in their staterooms and meals have been delivered by room service. Crew members also have remained in their quarters when they are not working.
The Coast Guard said in a news release Saturday it has been involved with processing about 120 vessels carrying some 250,000 passengers over the past three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Coast Guard statement said as of Saturday there are 114 cruise ships, carrying 93,000 crew members, either in or near U.S. ports and waters. That includes 73 cruise ships, with 52,000 crew members, moored or anchored in U.S. ports and anchorages. Another 41 cruise ships, with 41,000 crew members, are underway and close to the U.S.
The cruise line industry announced a voluntarily suspension of most ship operations from U.S. ports on March 13. The next day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “no sail” order to all cruise ships that had not suspended operations.
“We commend the decision by the cruise industry to cease operations. However, pausing a global tourist industry does not happen instantaneously or easily,” said Vice Admiral Dan Abel, Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations.
“The federal, state, local and industry cooperation to achieve this feat truly represents the whole-of-nation approach directed by the president and is essential to fighting the spread of this virus and working to minimize the loss of life.”
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5’s Joe Vazquez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.