A Princess cruise ship, carrying passengers and crew members exhibiting influenza-like symptoms, is being held off the coast so health officials can test possible coronavirus cases prior to the ship returning to the Port of San Francisco.
The Grand Princess was earlier heading to the Port of San Francisco to be greeted by the U.S. Coast Guard and medical teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it docked before a plan was made to conduct coronavirus testing on board the vessel, the governor said.
Two Northern California passengers from a Feb. 11-21 voyage aboard the Grand Princess — sailing round-trip from San Francisco to Mexico — contracted the COVID19 strain of the coronavirus. A Sonoma County resident remains hospitalized while an elderly Placer County resident, a 71-year-old man, became the first Californian to die of the disease on Wednesday.
Officials immediately recalled the same ship back to San Francisco from a trip to Hawaii and Mexico. Of the passengers aboard, 62 have been on both legs of the voyage.
The ship was set to dock in San Francisco sometime Wednesday evening, but is currently being held off the California coast over concerns people onboard could be sick with the coronavirus. The order to keep the vessel off the coast rather than docking in San Francisco came from the Governor, who announced the move during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Newsom said that COVID-19 test kits would be flown to the ship so testing could commence on the passengers who may already be sick with the coronavirus.
“That cruise ship is making its way back to the state of California, specifically to the city and county of San Francisco,” Newsom said. “It was due to arrive this evening. We’ve requested that the arrival be delayed…to provide ample opportunity for the CDC in partnership with the Coast Guard and state health officials, to conduct tests. Because we have a number of passengers and crew members who have developed symptoms on this cruise.”
“As a consequence, we are going to be flying testing kits to the cruise ship and quickly sending those back to the state labs, primarily the Richmond lab to be tested very quickly, within a few hours, to determine whether or not these individuals are symptomatic — just have traditional cold or flu — or if they have contracted COVID-19 virus,” Newsom explained.
The testing protocols would also be expanded to even more passengers, since a number of passengers had been on the portion of the cruise to Mexico.
Suzi Schultz, a Sonoma County resident, was also on the Grand Princess and says she became sick with what she thought was the flu or strep throat right after the cruise. Then, she saw the headline that a person had died from coronavirus on the very cruise she was on. She says she called Princess Cruise lines and didn’t receive much useful information.
She says even though no one gave her specific instructions, even her doctor and county health officials, she decided to self-quarantine. Schultz says she made repeated calls to Princess and was repeatedly told there was “no problem.”
“Until this morning, Princess Cruises denied anything was going on and at that point issued a blanket statement to all the passengers saying there is an issue with the Grand Princess,” Schultz told KPIX.
The Princess statement said the CDC informed them Wednesday that there was “a small cluster being investigated” and to “contact your doctor if feeling sick.” Schultz flew home from Mexico; her traveling party flew from Cabo, through San Diego and on to Sacramento.
On the Hawaiian cruise, the ship had made ports of call on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
San Francisco health officials said “some passengers have developed influenza-like symptoms.” Three people who were on the previous Feb. 11-21 Grand Princess cruise were presumed to be positive for COVID-19 and that one of them was the person who passed away, health officials said.
A crew member who served on the February 11 voyage was medically disembarked in Hawaii with flu-like symptoms but has tested negative for the virus. Since the February 11 sailing, Princess Cruises says it has instituted new disinfection protocols and is continuing to work with guests and crew to prevent the spread of disease.
“The City and County of San Francisco stands ready to support the efforts of the USCG and CDC to provide care to all affected passengers and crew on board the vessel,” a statement from health officials read. “The USCG and CDC are working directly with the cruise line and passengers on board the vessel.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday said he was issuing an state of emergency over the coronavirus spread which has infected 53 people in the state, and that health officials are monitoring 9,400 people in 49 counties for possible infection.
At an afternoon press conference in Placer County, Dr. Christopher Braden, Deputy Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, said medical investigators were testing others for the coronavirus from the previous cruise.
“There are a number of other people who have been identified with some type of (coronavirus) symptoms that are undergoing testing now,” he said. “That information will be updated as we know more.”
When asked about what precautions the former passengers should be taking, Braden said: “There is a cluster of illness associated with the cruise and they should enhance cautions … Make sure if you have any fever, shortness of breath or cough and so forth to contact a health care provider.”
He also tried to quell fears that the illness may have come from contact onshore when the ship was docked in Mexico.
“Where this person (the Placer County patient who died) was infected and the exposure is not clear — that something that happened in Mexico was the source of the illness,” he said. “It may have been somebody else on the boat and not necessarily an exposure because they were in Mexico.”