With thousands trapped on board, cruise ship off San Francisco awaits coronavirus tests
Princess Cruises said it will test fewer than 100 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which health officials say is the site of another COVID-19 outbreak.
Grand Princess cruise ship, idled off the coast of California a day after the ship was denied entry to its home port in San Francisco, could be the site of another Covid 19 outbreak. The ship, which was on a two-week voyage to Hawaii, was ordered to return early to San Francisco, California Governor Gavin Newsom has said, adding that passengers and crew have developed symptoms.
A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that three passengers who were previously on the ship have since tested positive, including one who has died.
Executive Director of San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll said on Thursday there are about 3,500 people aboard the ship. Of that, 35 people have exhibited symptoms, Carroll said, though some have recovered.
First, the food buffet was shut down on the ship as gloved staff scurried about wiping every surface in sight. Then the ocean liner's gym, bar, casino and boutiques were closed, with passengers urged to keep to themselves. Finally, they were confined to their staterooms.
Once the captain announced their vessel may be tainted with coronavirus, Grand Princess cruise ship guests like Kathleen Reid were left with little to do but contemplate the prospect of extended isolation at sea, or worse.
"My first reaction was, 'Oh, crap. We're going to be quarantined, and maybe get sick,'" Reid, 67, a retiree from Granbury, Texas told Reuters. "We don't know what's happening, so we're just kind of in limbo, waiting."
Newsom has insisted that the ship will remain at sea until passengers and crew complaining of flu-like symptoms during a 15-day roundtrip cruise to Hawaii could be tested for possible coronavirus infection.
On Thursday, the US Coast Guard airlifted a batch of diagnostic kits to the ship via helicopter, and public health officials said samples collected would be flown back to a San Francisco Bay Area state laboratory for testing.
Fewer than 100 to be tested
Results were expected in about 24 hours, said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of the city's Department of Emergency Management.
State and local officials acted after learning that 35 people aboard the ship had fallen ill, and that two passengers who had travelled on the same vessel for a voyage last month between San Francisco and Mexico later tested positive for coronavirus.
One, an elderly man from Placer County near Sacramento with underlying health conditions, died this week, marking the first documented coronavirus fatality in California. The other, from the Bay area, was described by Newsom as gravely sick.
Health officials say both individuals likely contracted the virus while they were aboard the ocean liner, a corporate cousin of the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off Japan in February. About 700 people aboard the Diamond Princess were ultimately infected with the virus and six died.
The Princess cruise line, a unit of Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise operator, said fewer than 100 passengers and crew from the Hawaii voyage of its Grand Princess have been identified for testing, including those who were ill.
Tests will also be given to dozens of holdover passengers from the Mexico trip who stayed on the ship for the voyage to Hawaii, as well as "guests currently under care for respiratory illness," the cruise line said in a statement. They will remain quarantined on the ship until cleared by medical staff.
Specialists from the CDC were working with local health authorities and the Coast Guard to coordinate the operation.
They also were seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked in San Francisco on February 21 after the earlier cruise to Mexico. One of them, a Canadian woman from the province of Alberta, tested positive for the virus this week, health officials there said.
Princess Cruises has cancelled the next scheduled departure of its Grand Princess Hawaii voyage from San Francisco, which had been set for March 7.
It was unclear what would occur if anyone now aboard the ship tests positive for the respiratory virus, which has infected more than 95,000 people worldwide, most of them in China, where the outbreak originated.