Ebola scare forces Carnival Magic cruise ship to skip Cozumel, return to Texas

Vacationer handled Ebola-infected man's specimen

BELIZE - A U.S. cruise ship carrying a worker who handled a lab specimen from an Ebola-infected man who died is being forced to skip its last port and reroute.

The Carnival Magic was unable to dock Friday morning in Cozumel, Mexico because authorities would not allow it, said 7NEWS reporter Eric Lupher, who is on the cruise ship.

The ship docked in Belize on Thursday, but when passengers returned Thursday night, Lupher said the ship didn't leave right away and there was no explanation why. 

On Friday morning, passengers expected to wake up in Cozumel. However, at 7 a.m. MT, the captain told the passengers there was a delay and they would be at the Port of Cozumel shortly.

Three hours later, the captain said that someone who worked at a hospital in Texas was on the ship and that due to a change in CDC monitoring procedures, the CDC requested the woman be returned home from Belize. However,  authorities tried to get the person on a flight from Belize to the U.S., but officials in Belize wouldn't allow the passenger to leave the ship.

MORE: Everything you need to know about Ebola

The captain then explained that the ship was skipping its planned stop in Cozumel and returning to its home port of Galveston, Texas. It is expected to arrive in Galveston Sunday morning, as originally scheduled.

"[He] never said the word Ebola, but everyone knew, " Lupher said. "On the elevators, people were talking about it."

Lupher said so many passengers are now on their phones, he's getting a busy signal trying to call out. He said the internet was also down.

The worker self-quarantined on the ship and was monitored for any signs of infection.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Friday that the woman has shown no signs of the disease and has been asymptomatic for 19 days. The incubation period for Ebola is 21 days.

Psaki said that when the woman left the U.S. on the cruise ship on Sunday, Oct. 12, health officials were requiring only self-monitoring.

MORE: Complete Ebola coverage

The woman, the lab supervisor at the hospital at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, handled the specimen of a Liberian man who died from Ebola at the hospital earlier this month. Since his death, two nurses who had been taking care of him have contracted Ebola.

Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that the woman remained in isolation "and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew."

"We are in close contact with the CDC, and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board," the statement said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A spokeswoman for the cruise line, Jennifer De La Cruz, said that when the Magic made a port call in Belize, other passengers were allowed to disembark with the exception of the health care worker and her spouse.

There have been no restrictions placed on other passengers aboard the ship, officials said.

"We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests," Carnival said in a statement. Passengers will get a $200 credit on their ship accounts and a 50 percent discount for future cruises.

The CDC notified the cruise line on Wednesday, Oct. 15 that a guest on board Carnival Magic was connected to Texas Health Presbyterian. 

"The CDC informed us that at no point time has this individual had any direct contact with any infected patients nor has this guest exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection," the captain wrote in a letter to passengers. "It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution." 

The cruise ship has been cleared by CDC for passengers to disembark in Galveston on Sunday.

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