California health officials, cruise passengers await coronavirus test results from idled ship

(Reuters) – Anxious cruise ship passengers and California health officials awaited coronavirus test results on Friday from an ocean liner denied entry to San Francisco Bay after 35 people reported flu-like symptoms aboard the vessel, which has been linked to three previous COVID-19 cases.

Diagnostic test kits were flown out to sea by an Air National Guard helicopter on Thursday for delivery to the cruise ship Grand Princess, where medical staff took samples from about 100 passengers and crew to determine if they have contracted the respiratory virus.

The samples were carried back to a state laboratory in the Bay area. Results were expected in about 24 hours, Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of the city’s Department of Emergency Management, said on Thursday.

But as of midday on Friday, state officials and Princess Cruises said they were still awaiting word on the outcome.

In the meantime, passengers aboard the ship confirmed they had been largely confined to their staterooms since Thursday afternoon, as the cruise line requested. One passenger who spoke on Thursday with Reuters, Kathy Reid, 67, a retiree from Granbury, Texas, said she and others felt like they were in “limbo.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom has insisted that the ship, which had been due to return from Hawaii to its home port in San Francisco on Wednesday, remain at sea until everyone aboard who is sick or at risk of exposure to coronavirus can be tested.

The tests were administered on Thursday to 35 passengers and crew who have reported symptoms consistent with coronavirus, as well as to dozens of “holdover” passengers from an earlier voyage to Mexico.

State and local officials acted to halt the cruise liner after learning people aboard had fallen ill and two passengers who traveled on the same vessel last month to 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 aboard the ship.

A third passenger from the Mexico trip, a Canadian woman from the province of Alberta, has since been reported by health officials there to have tested positive.

Health officials were also seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked in San Francisco on Feb. 21 after the earlier cruise to Mexico.

Specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were working with local health authorities and the Coast Guard to coordinate the operation.

FILE PHOTO: A California National Guard helicopter from the Moffett Federal Airfield based, 129th Rescue Wing deliver coronavirus test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco, California, U.S. in this still image from a handout video taken March 5, 2020. California National Guard/Handout via REUTERS A

It was unclear what would occur should anyone now aboard the ship test positive for the respiratory virus, which has infected more than 95,000 people worldwide, most of them in China, where the outbreak originated.

“Once we have results from the tests, the CDC and the state will determine the most appropriate location for the ship to berth, and the location needs to provide for the safety of the surrounding community as well as the passengers and crew,” Carroll told reporters on Thursday.

Like the Diamond Princess, the liner held in quarantine off Japan last month, the Grand Princess is owned by a unit of Carnival Corp, the world’s largest cruise operator.

Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Cath Turner in Los Angeles and Jane Lee in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis

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