The Grand Princess cruise ship will begin to allow guests to disembark Monday after 21 people aboard tested positive for coronavirus on Friday.
Princess Cruises announced early Sunday it had been informed by state and local officials that the cruise, off the coast of California, would be able to dock in the Port of Oakland on Monday, though an exact time was not available, cruise line public relations director Negin Kamali told USA TODAY.
Guests who “require acute medical treatment and hospitalization” will be first to disembark. Kamali said it was “unclear” if other passengers would also be allowed off the ship Monday, or if they would have to wait further.
“California residents will go to a federally operated facility within California for testing and isolation, while non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states,” read a statement provided by Kamali. “Crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship.”
Prior to the announcement, the more than 3,500 people on Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess remained in limbo earlier Saturday evening as they awaited further information on when and where the cruise ship would dock.
Only 45 passengers and crew members have been tested, and of those who tested positive, 19 were crew members and two were passengers.
A California man who died on Wednesday was likely infected with coronavirus before he boarded the Grand Princess last month.
In a conference call with reporters Saturday evening, Grant Tarling, the chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Princess Cruises, said the man boarded the ship in San Francisco on Feb. 11, when it set sail for Mexico.
Tarling said the man sought medical treatment from the ship’s medical center on Feb. 20 and reported symptoms of an “acute respiratory illness” for about a week. Since Tarling noted that the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has an incubation period of five to six days, it’s likely that the man was infected prior to boarding the ship.
“We believe this case was community acquired in California and brought on the ship,” Tarling said.
Tarling said Princess was told on March 2 that the man, in his early 70s, had tested positive for coronavirus in Placer County, California. The man died on Wednesday at a hospital in Roseville, California, where he had been placed in medical isolation.
Tarling previously said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not established a testing protocol for the ship, nor had it said how many passengers and crew members would be tested.
“We have not been told that by the CDC,” he said. “We are waiting for CDC to provide definitive information about that.”
Swartz said that Princess Cruises made recommendations to the agencies that will decide what to do with the ship, based on its experience last month with the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan. More than 700 of that ship’s passengers developed coronavirus, and six have died.
“We need to get the ship into a port as soon as possible,” she said.
Grand Princess passengers could be disembarked to face quarantine, possibly at U.S. military bases or other sites. That’s what happened to hundreds of passengers who were exposed to the virus on the Diamond Princess in January.
In his most recent comments about the ship, President Donald Trump, speaking Friday at the U.S. Centers for to Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said he would prefer not to allow the passengers onto American soil but will defer to the recommendations of medical experts.
“I don’t need to have the numbers (of U.S. cases) double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said in a Fox News interview. “And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either. OK? It wasn’t their fault either. And they are mostly American, so I can live either way with it.”
Speaking at the White House on Friday evening, Vice President Mike Pence said that 46 people aboard the ship, which was being held off the coast of California, had been tested for coronavirus. Of those, 24 were negative and one of the tests was inconclusive. Pence said that of the 21 who tested positive, 19 were crew members and two were passengers.
“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it,” Pence said. .
Kailee Higgins Ott, 17, is on board Grand Princess with her mother. She said Saturday that they were doing fine. At this point, she just wants more information.
“Part of me wants to get tested and have a plan set soon,” she told USA TODAY. “But part of me also doesn’t want that. I feel nervous if we have to move to a military base because I don’t know how that will be like. Right now we are being treated well and it’s not that bad in the room so moving to a different location would be weird.”
Some of the announcements from the captain, she said, have been confusing.
“I think the captain could say more because we are reading more than what the captain is telling us on the news about the whole situation,” she added.
Princess Cruises said the ship is providing food and beverages via room service, offering free Internet and telephone service for passengers to stay in contact with families and working with the CDC to determine if additional precautionary measures are needed. The cruise line’s medical team also is collecting information from guests regarding prescription refill needs.
The company announced Wednesday those on board may have been exposed to coronavirus after sailing with 62 passengers who officials say had previously been on the ship’s Mexico voyage with a 71-year-old California man who eventually died from the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised guests stay in their rooms starting Thursday but had not declared a quarantine, according to a Thursday statement from Princess Cruises provided by spokesperson Alivia Owyoung Ender.
A Coast Guard helicopter lowered test kits onto the 951-foot Grand Princess by rope Thursday.
On Friday evening, personal protective equipment was delivered to the ship via a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, the line said Saturday. The new gear was meant to supplement the supply already on board.
As of Saturday morning, coronavirus had infected more than 102,000 people globally and killed 3,491, according to Johns Hopkins data.
More cases related to Grand Princess continue to emerge
As passengers remained on the Grand Princess, more cases connected to the ship came to light.
Late Friday, the Chicago Department of Public Health said an employee of the Chicago Public Schools had tested positive for coronavirus — the city’s first case and the sixth in Illinois.
The woman, in her 50s, had disembarked from the Grand Princess in San Francisco on Feb. 21 and returned to Chicago on Feb. 24. She is currently hospitalized and in stable condition, city officials said.
The woman had returned to work, but stayed home once she started developing symptoms, officials said. The test came back positive on Friday.
The school where she works, Jacqueline B. Vaughn Occupational High School, will be closed next week.
The city’s school system and health department “have already begun an extensive outreach effort for every student, employee and family in this school community to inform them of the confirmed case,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news conference late Friday.
Carson City Health and Human Services in Nevada confirmed on Friday that it is also monitoring “a few” individuals in its jurisdiction who have ties to the Grand Princess cruise ship.
“In many respects, our ships are small floating cities. Just as life happens in cities for good and for bad, life also happens onboard our ships,” Princess Cruises’ president Jan Swartz said in a video posted to Twitter Friday morning.
This isn’t Princess Cruises’ first coronavirus cruise situation
Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess, the ship that was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, and experienced a coronavirus outbreak that infected nearly 700 passengers. Six have died.
“We learned a lot from our recent experience in Japan, and we are taking those lessons into account as we continue to support our fleet and our guests,” Swartz said in the video on Twitter.
On social media, the cruise line was busy replying to a myriad of tweets from concerned customers with upcoming cruises, assuring them their bookings could be canceled. Princess is allowing people who have a cruise booked through May 31, 2020, can make changes to their reservations.
Maryland residents tested positive after cruising on Egyptian ship
Meanwhile, three Maryland residents tested positive Thursday for the coronavirus after traveling on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said on Friday evening.
The married couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s, all from Montgomery County, are the first patients to test positive for coronavirus in the state.
“This does appear to be the same cruise ship the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today has 12 workers who have been placed in quarantine for 14 days” after testing positive, said Hogan. “And our three Maryland cases appear to be linked to six confirmed coronavirus cases in Texas.”
On Thursday, Texas health departments announced positive coronavirus tests for several Harris County residents who had recently traveled abroad together.
A cruise ship on Egypt’s Nile River with over 150 tourists and local crew was in quarantine Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, after 12 people tested positive for the new coronavirus.
A Taiwanese-American tourist who had previously been on the same ship tested positive when she returned to Taiwan. The World Health Organization informed Egyptian authorities, who tested everyone currently on the ship.
Health authorities found a dozen of the ship’s Egyptian crew members had contracted the fast-spreading virus, but did not show symptoms, according to a statement Friday.
The statement said the 12 will be transferred to isolation in a hospital on Egypt’s north coast. The passengers — who include Americans, French and other nationalities — and the crew will remain quarantined on the ship awaiting further test results.
Egyptian authorities have been tight-lipped about the virus outbreak, previously reporting only three confirmed cases. That’s even as the wider Mideast now has over 6,000 confirmed cases.
Contributing: The Associated Press, Andrea Mandell and Hannah Yasharoff, USA TODAY, Matthew Prensky, Salisbury Daily Times
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