Princess cruise passenger dies of coronavirus, ship heads for San Francisco

A coronavirus patient who had recently traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship has died in California, the state confirmed, and the ship is now headed for San Francisco.

The Grand Princess is expected to arrive near the city on Thursday afternoon. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that the ship will be held off the coast. He also declared a state of emergency for California.

Princess Cruises on Wednesday announced that it was canceling plans to dock in Ensenada, Mexico, as scheduled out of an “abundance of caution,” and will arrive early in San Francisco instead. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a “small cluster” of cases connected to the ship, according to a statement that the company, Princess Cruises, sent to passengers on Wednesday.

Some passengers currently on board have started to show symptoms, Newsom said.

The Grand Princess is from the same line as the Diamond Princess, which hosted one of the largest outbreaks of the new coronavirus outside China. More than 700 people who were on board the Diamond Princess tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus. The ship sat in the port of Yokohama, Japan, for weeks as the local government placed everyone on board under quarantine.

“The CDC is continuing to actively collect information and has set up a meeting with us this morning to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken during this cruise and on arrival in San Francisco,” the cruise line said on Wednesday. “We have shared essential travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their standard notification to the State and County health authorities to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to people who became ill.”

It added: “We anticipate that further review of the situation will be necessary on arrival in San Francisco.”

Some passengers are ‘under care for respiratory illness’

The patient who died of the coronavirus in California was on the Grand Princess from February 11 to 21. At least one other confirmed coronavirus case in California — a person in Sonoma County — was on the cruise at the same time as the patient who died.

Some passengers still on board were also on that trip.

Newsom said the Grand Princess will not initially be allowed to dock in the port of San Francisco. Instead, the US Coast Guard will fly coronavirus test kits out to the ship on helicopters Thursday morning, according to an update that Princess Cruises posted on Wednesday evening.

Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter Miami

Coast Guard Lt. Nathan White beside an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Miami in Opa Lacka, Florida, November 15, 2018.

Christopher Woody/Business Insider

The ship’s medical team will administer the tests, and helicopters will return them to a lab in Richmond, California, the update said. The cruise line added that fewer than 100 passengers and crew members had been identified for testing, and they have been asked not to leave their cabins.

That includes guests who are “currently under care for respiratory illness,” the company said, along with passengers and crew members showing symptoms, and all passengers who were on the previous voyage.

It is not yet clear whether other passengers — those not on the previous voyage — were also asked to stay in their rooms.

Newsom said state authorities are following up with the other passengers who were on the previous voyage but left when that cruise ended.

Next steps for the Grand Princess are not yet clear

diamond princess hello family.JPG

Family members of passengers onboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, wave and talk to them on the phone at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, February 11, 2020.

Reuters/Issei Kato

Experts have criticized the way Japan’s government quarantined Diamond Princess passengers and crew on that ship. Some have said that keeping people on the ship may have helped the virus spread among them.

“I admit, our isolation policy was not perfect,” Shigeru Omi, a health adviser to the Japanese government, said at a press conference on February 24. “No place is perfect except in a hospital.”

It is not yet known what the CDC plans to do if more people on the Grand Princess test positive for COVID-19. The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Princess Cruises.

“We are closely recording and monitoring all persons who have reported to the medical center with cold and flu symptoms during the voyage. As a precaution, we are also conducting additional enhanced environmental disinfection onboard in addition to our regular stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols,” Princess Cruises said in its statement to passengers.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Do you work for Princess Cruises? Are you on the Grand Princess? Contact this reporter at You can also reach out on Signal at 646-768-4730.

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