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Coronavirus strands cruise ship passengers as cases along West Coast climb

Vice President Mike Pence said in a meeting with cruise line executives and port directors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that officials have developed a plan to bring the ship to a noncommercial port, which will be implemented this weekend.

A helicopter carrying Pararescue jumpers with the California National Guard 129th Rescue Wings deliver Covid-19 test kits to the Grand Princess cruise line off the coast of California on March 5, 2020. The Grand Princess is being held offshore near San Francisco due to coronavirus concerns onboard. (California National Guard/Zuma Press/TNS)

LOS ANGELES - As federal and state officials grappled with how to deal with the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco, where 21 passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus, passengers remained in the dark about when they would be able to return to land.

Vice President Mike Pence said in a meeting with cruise line executives and port directors in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that officials have developed a plan to bring the ship to a noncommercial port, which will be implemented this weekend.

"All passengers and crew will be tested for coronavirus and quarantined as appropriate," he said. "Those that require additional medical attention will also receive it."

But few details have been released about the plan.

Meanwhile, at Long Beach harbor Saturday, passengers aboard the Carnival Panorama cruise ship were not allowed off the ship while officials dealt with a medical issue, according to a Facebook post by the cruise director.


"There is a medical matter with a Carnival Panorama guest that caused authorities to suspend debarkation. The guest in question does not meet CDC criteria for coronavirus risk, but officials still have questions. Our shoreside medical team is in direct contact with authorities and we hope to debark shortly," he said in the post.

Long Beach city officials said on Twitter that a passenger aboard the cruise was taken to a local hospital by the Long Beach Fire Department and is being tested for the coronavirus. The ship is docked at a Long Beach terminal, but "in an abundance of caution, (the CDC) has decided to hold passengers on board until the patient can be evaluated."

Siehara Kennedy, who is aboard the cruise ship, said passengers have been waiting more than three hours to get off. Passengers are not being isolated in their rooms and have been allowed to gather in the ship's bars and casino, she said.

Across the state, more than 80 people have been infected with the virus. In the U.S., there have been at least 381 confirmed cases, with most centered in Washington, where 108 people have tested positive and 16 have died. More than 100,000 people have become infected worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

A state source described conversations about moving passengers and crew members on the Grand Princess cruise as fluid and said discussions on how to proceed by state and federal officials would resume Saturday.

So far, 19 crew members and 2 passengers have tested positive out of a total 46 passengers who were tested, a sign that the virus was spreading aboard the boat. Meanwhile, at least two more California residents who had recently been on Grand Princess cruises have tested positive for the virus.

A Madera County resident and their partner are isolated in their home. One person who visited the couple is also isolated and being monitored, according to the Fresno Bee. Officials did not say where the Madera County resident had traveled to before leaving the ship.

On Saturday morning, Santa Cruz County public health officials also confirmed a coronavirus case. The County's public health division said in a press release that the person had been on a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico between Feb. 11 and 21. They are working to determine whether the person came in contact with anyone else.


By Saturday, the state said approximately a dozen passengers of the Grand Princess cruise that returned to San Francisco on Feb. 21 had tested positive for the virus. Local officials reported four cases in Placer County, two in Contra Costa County, two in Sonoma County and one in each of Santa Cruz, Ventura, Madera and Alameda counties tied to the trip

Testing was continuing on the ship Saturday, but its fate is emerging as a major public health challenge for California, where the number of coronavirus cases has pushed past 60. At least seven of those cases are believed to be connected to the same cruise ship, including a Placer County man who died after returning from an earlier voyage to Mexico. He is the state's only confirmed COVID-19 fatality.

The Princess Cruise ship was returning from a subsequent cruise to Hawaii when it was held off the California coast. With testing still underway, officials still don't know how many of the more than 3,000 people on board have the virus. They also have not determined exactly where those who are infected would go.

According to a source on the ship who asked not to be identified, the boat had moved just south of San Francisco and closer to shore to allow easier U.S. Coast Guard access. But on Saturday morning, the ship moved farther offshore, about 50 miles from the coast.

Friday evening, gloves and masks were delivered to the cruise ship by helicopter, according to Negin Kamali, a spokesperson for the cruise ship. On Saturday morning, a critically ill passenger and their companion were evacuated from the ship by a Coast Guard cutter.

"They are being transported to a shoreside medical facility for treatment unrelated to COVID-19," Kamali said. "The Captain of Grand Princess and the Princess Cruises port operations team continue to await specific directives from state and local response operations about where the ship will proceed."

Media outlets reported that one person aboard the cruise has cancer and needed to be removed to receive chemotherapy treatment.

Pence said the federal government is working with the state of California to bring the cruise ship into a noncommercial port over the weekend and quarantine those aboard as necessary.


President Donald Trump said he would ultimately let Pence, who leads the task force in charge of the response, decide whether to allow passengers to leave the ship. But he said several times that he would be inclined to leave them on board because bringing them ashore would increase the number of official cases on American soil.

"I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers being doubled because of one ship," Trump said.

"A lot of people think we should do it the other way," he said. "We have to take care of Americans."

Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement that federal and state government "have been working in close collaboration overnight and throughout the day to quickly stand up a solution that meets the health needs for those on board and protects public health."

He added that Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke Friday morning, with the governor also speaking with Pence throughout the day.

At a White House briefing, federal public health officials could not say precisely how many people have been tested for the virus.

They said 5,861 specimens have been taken by federal, state and local public health labs. But most patients give at least two samples, one from the nose and a second from the throat.

But Dr. Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, promised a massive expansion of testing availability in the coming days. The CDC has shipped out 75,000 tests to public labs in 48 states and 1.1 million tests to commercial labs, with another 1 million tests going out Monday.

That's enough for roughly 850,000 patients under the current protocols.

Friday's announcement was the result of a helicopter crew delivering kits to the Grand Princess to test about 100 passengers for COVID-19. The next day, Kamali confirmed that the CDC had "recommended that guests should remain in their staterooms for the remainder of the cruise."

Karen, a Canadian passenger who asked to be identified only by her first name, said she fears what could come next.

"I'm not afraid of this virus," she said. "I'm terrified of a quarantine onboard."

"That changes things," said another person on the ship. "I'm not going home anytime soon."

The one California man who has died disembarked from the Grand Princess last month in San Francisco after a cruise to Mexico. The ship was scheduled to return to San Francisco again Wednesday after a subsequent trip to Hawaii, but it has been held offshore while authorities evaluate crew members and passengers with symptoms of the virus.

Another man who had been on the Mexico trip was found unresponsive at his home in Sunnyvale on Thursday and later died. On Friday, Santa Clara County officials said that the man tested negative for COVID-19.

Passengers on the vessel - both current and those who may have been exposed earlier - told the Los Angeles Times that the response to the outbreak by the company and health officials had been filled with missteps.

In particular, passengers said that Princess Cruises was lax on health screening protocols prior to boarding and withheld information about the risks they faced, even as the ship's situation became international news.

In Silicon Valley, the film festival Cinequest postponed its second week of events due to coronavirus concerns.

"In keeping with the health safety directive from the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, and the concerned request from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, we are rescheduling the second week of this, our 30th anniversary festival, to occur August 16-30," Cinequest co-founders said in a statement.

The quandary over the cruise ship comes as Stanford University said that it would shift classes online for the final two weeks of the winter quarter after a faculty member in the School of Medicine tested positive for the coronavirus.

School officials said the clinic where the faculty member worked was closed over the weekend for cleaning .

USC said it would conduct lectures and seminars online rather than in classrooms for three days next week as a test should the campus be forced to suspend in-person contact.

Three UCLA students who were self-isolating on campus have tested negative for the coronavirus. School officials said the university has"invested in tools that will aid in remote teaching and learning, when needed" but so far has not made changes to classes.

The Elk Grove School District, the largest in Northern California, closed schools for a week because a student is in quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus. According to reporting by the Sacramento Bee, it is the first school district in the state to do so.

In Washington state, another person died from the coronavirus, bringing the deaths in the state to 16, health officials said Saturday. A total of 102 people have been infected.

Seattle appears to be the center of the U.S. epidemic, where 98 people have been infected. Ten of the state's deaths have happened at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a long-term care facility. Officials said 15 people in the nursing facility have been hospitalized in the last 24 hours.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state rose to 76.


(Los Angeles Times staff writers Melody Gutierrez, Richard Winton, Soumya Karlamangla, Taryn Luna and Richard Read contributed to this report.)


(c)2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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