Grand Princess: A cruise ship in limbo awaits coronavirus results

The California Air National Guard dropped off test kits by helicopter Thursday after learning that the first person to die of the virus in the state had previously traveled on the Grand Princess.

Medical officials collected samples for testing from 45 people aboard after some showed symptoms. The samples were flown to a lab in Richmond, the cruise line said.

The ship must remain at sea as it awaits test results, expected Friday, said Mary Ellen Carroll of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

There are more than 3,500 people aboard the Grand Princess — 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew members, Princess Cruises said. They represent 54 nationalities.

A two-week trip is cut short

The Grand Princess was on a two-week trip from San Francisco to Hawaii and was scheduled to return Saturday.

Its trip was cut short Wednesday after the California man’s death — the first fatality outside Washington state in an outbreak that’s killed 14 people nationwide.
The unidentified man was 71 and had underlying health conditions, Placer County health officials said. He was likely exposed to the virus on a Grand Princess cruise between February 11 and 21 from San Francisco to Mexico .
Shortly after the Grand Princess finished its Mexico trip last month, it started the latest cruise to Hawaii.

Some of those identified for testing included several who were on the Mexico voyage with the victim. At least three passengers from that trip tested positive, including the man who died.

It’s not clear when or where the ship will eventually dock, though San Francisco is a possibility, Carroll said.

No guests will be allowed to disembark until all test results are received, Princess Cruises said in a statement.

The captain advised passengers who are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, to stay in their rooms, according to a video clip CNN obtained from inside the ship from passenger Teresa Duncan Johnson.

“We’re in discussions with the CDC regarding time for guests to access the open deck for fresh air and exercise,” the captain says, referring to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Grand Princess passes the Golden Gate Bridge in February in San Francisco.

A race to trace possible infections

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency, saying local health officials are working with their federal counterparts to trace people who had contact with the man who died.

Princess Cruises has shared relevant data with the CDC to help notify state and county health officials, who will follow up with anyone who may have been exposed to coronavirus, cruise line officials said.

Meanwhile, as the ship awaits test results, the captain asked all guests to stay 6 feet from others.

“Cruise ships are posing probably one of the biggest challenges that we are seeing in this outbreak,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, infectious diseases director at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“We know these cruise ships are essentially … we’ve been calling them incubators, they are incredibly very healthy environments for the pathogens that we’re talking about.”

Another cruise ship was linked to the virus

It’s not clear what will happen to the Grand Princess passengers after test results come back.

But another Princess Cruises ship, the Diamond Princess, was the site of a major coronavirus outbreak last month.
Japanese government adviser: Diamond Princess quarantine was flawed
After the first handful of cases were reported from the Diamond Princess, Japanese officials decided to quarantine the ship. Eventually, more than 700 people aboard became infected with coronavirus.

“The problem with the Diamond (Princess) cruise ship, as we’ve learned, was that when you quarantine people like that, with a few possible infected people, the likelihood of infecting many more people goes up,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.

US infection cases are going up

Health officials are urging local communities to consider ways to stop the coronavirus from spreading as the number of infections soared past 220 nationwide.
That number includes at least 46 former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
In addition to the former Grand Princess passenger in California, 13 people have died in Washington state — including many who are linked to a long-term nursing home near Seattle.

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