SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thousands of people were confined to a cruise ship circling in international waters off the San…
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Thousands of people were confined to a cruise ship circling in international waters off the San Francisco Bay Area Saturday after 21 passengers and crew members tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The Grand Princess was forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of more than 10 cases during its previous voyage.
Meantime, Florida reported two coronavirus deaths — the first outside of the West Coast. Health officials said two people in their 70s who had traveled overseas died in Santa Rosa County in Florida’s Panhandle and in the Fort Myers area. Florida also raised the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the new virus strain, from four to seven.
The U.S. death toll from the virus climbed to 16, with all but three victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to over 200, scattered across about half the states. Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota and Nebraska reported their first cases.
In California, state authorities were working with federal officials around-the-clock to bring the Grand Princess cruise ship to a non-commercial port over the weekend and test everyone for the virus. There was no immediate word on where the vessel will dock.
Two passengers on the ship said Friday night that the captain has notified them they are moving to a location 20 miles off the coast for easier delivery of supplies. The captain said a guest requires medical attention and may be airlifted out, the passengers said.
While health officials said about 1,100 crew members will remain aboard, 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 another cruise ship in January.
“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it,” Vice President Michael Pence said Friday as he announced that 19 crew members and two passengers had tested positive for COVID-19.
President Donald Trump, speaking Friday at the U.S. Centers for 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.
“They would like to have the people come off. I’d rather have the people stay but … I told them to make the final decision,” the president said.
“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. Okay? It wasn’t their fault either. And they are mostly American, so I can live either way with it.”
In the meantime, passengers aboard the Grand Princess remained holed up in their rooms as they awaited word about the fate of the ship. Some said ship officials only informed them of the confirmed coronavirus cases after they first learned about it from news reports.
Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Paradise, California, went on the cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
The Smiths said they were a bit worried but felt safe in their room, which they had left just once since Thursday to video chat with their children.
Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays with their food in covered plates and left them outside their door.
To pass the time they have been watching television, reading and looking out the window, they said.
“Thank God, we have a window!” Steven said.
The ship was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was ordered Wednesday to keep its distance from shore so 46 people with possible coronavirus symptoms could be tested. On Thursday, a military helicopter crew lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-meter) ship by rope and later flew them for analysis at a state lab.
Health officials undertook the testing after reporting that a 71-year-old man who had been on a February voyage of the same ship to Mexico contracted the virus and died this week at a hospital in Placer County in Northern California. Others who were on that voyage also have tested positive in Northern California, Minnesota, Illinois, Hawaii, Utah and Canada. A “presumed positive” patient was self-isolating at home in Nevada, health officials there said.
Some passengers who had been on the Mexico trip stayed aboard for the current voyage — increasing crew members’ exposure to the virus.
Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.
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