Merlene Fredericks-James, the chief medical officer at St. Lucia’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, confirmed in a filmed statement on April 30 that the ship is still in port. The crew members and passengers have not been allowed to leave the ship.
“Because one infected person can easily infect others for coughing, sneezing, droplets being on different surfaces etc., because of the risks of potential infection, not just from the confirmed measles case but from other persons who may be on the boat at the time, we thought it prudent to make a decision not to allow anyone to disembark,” said Fredericks-James.
The medical officer said that they have been working closely with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).
An official with St. Lucia’s Marine Police identified the ship as Freewinds, a 440-foot ship based in the Caribbean. The official declined to provide their name because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The ship is owned by the Church of Scientology, an organization which has been involved in a number of controversies.
— Tony Ortega (@TonyOrtega94) May 1, 2019
The church’s media center was not immediately available for comment.
St. Lucian officials said that they don’t have the authority to hold the ship at the port, NBC News reported. The ship’s departure is scheduled at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.
“The ship’s doctor has the confirmed case in isolation on the ship,” Dr. Fredericks-James added. “The individual is in stable condition.”
“The ship can leave our port, but we have no jurisdiction over their next destination,” Fredericks-James said.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases, according to PAHO. The virus can live up to two hours in the air where the infected person coughed or sneezed and can severe health problems, including pneumonia, brain swelling, and even death. The contagion can spread to up to 90 percent of the people close to the infected individual who are not immune, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The center reported 704 individual cases of measles across 22 states in the United States from Jan. 1 to April 26 this year, with an increase of 78 cases from the previous week. This is the highest level seen in the country in 25 years. The number topped 2014 when 667 cases were reported.
Measles was thought to be extinguished from the Americas in September 2016. The Americas has been free of smallpox since 1971, poliomyelitis since 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome since 2015.
The United States is one of the 12 countries in the region of the Americas that has confirmed measles cases. The last major outbreak in the U.S. was in 2017 when 75 cases were reported in Minnesota in a “Somali-American community with poor vaccination coverage,” the CDC stated.
The measles outbreak has prompted the New York City mayor to issue a public health emergency on April 9, followed by a second public health emergency on April 25 in Rockland County.