Twenty-one people on the Grand Princess off the San Francisco coast have tested positive for coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence said Friday, an announcement that angered and deflated many passengers on the cruise ship.
Pence said the federal government is working with the state of California to bring the cruise ship into a noncommercial port over the weekend and quarantine those aboard as necessary. Those testing positive included 19 crew and two passengers.
“All passengers will be tested,” the vice president said several hours after testing kits were delivered to the ship. “Those that need to be quarantined will be quarantined.”
Pence said 24 people on the cruise ship had tested negative, and one test was inconclusive.
There has been one California death reported, a man who disembarked from the Grand Princess last month in San Francisco after a cruise to Mexico. The ship was scheduled to return to San Francisco again Wednesday after a subsequent trip to Hawaii, but it has been held offshore while authorities evaluate a reported 10 crew members and 11 passengers with symptoms of the virus.
For much of the day before the news began spreading on social media, passengers contacted on the ship had been in largely good spirits. But the announcement – and the way it was delivered by Pence with no advance warning for those on board – left some frustrated.
One of those was Debbi Loftus, on the ship with her elderly parents.
“This really sucks that the government decided that they should be the one to break the news, Loftus said minutes after word broke. “Right now I, and I know my parents, are extremely angry that we are hearing this from the vice president rather than our captain.”
A source familiar with the process said government officials knew for several hours that there were multiple positives from the testing done aboard the cruise liner, which has 3,533 people onboard. These include 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew members. In total, they represent 54 nationalities.
Karen, a Canadian passenger who asked to be identified only by her first name, said her fears extended to what could come next.
“I’m not afraid of this virus,” she said moments later. “I’m terrified of a quarantine onboard.”
“That changes things,” said another person on the ship. “I’m not going home anytime soon.”
At 3:30 p.m., the ship’s captain apologized to passengers that they had to hear of the positive cases from the vice president’s address, according to one person on board.
The captain told passengers that the ship was not given advance notice of the announcement. The captain also told passengers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now discussing with the ship’s medical personnel how to inform people of their individual results.
Earlier, Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamali confirmed that the CDC had “recommended that guests should remain in their staterooms for the remainder of the cruise.”
The Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said another man who had been on a cruise ship whose passengers got sick was found unresponsive Thursday at his home and officers performed CPR. He later died.
“We don’t yet know if the patient had COVID-19,” said Phan Ngo, chief of the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety. The officers, who did not perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, were quarantined at home, he said.
Earlier Thursday, a helicopter crew delivered kits to the Grand Princess to test about 100 passengers for COVID-19. The ship will not be allowed to dock until those test results are back, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.
Not all experts are supportive of quarantining passengers aboard the ship. Don Milton, an expert on the spread of infectious disease at the University of Maryland, said such plans offered risks of their own.
“Cruise ships, college dorms and nursing homes, take your pick, “ said Milton. “There is a lot of recirculated air.”
Milton said challenges including narrow hallways and the logistics of getting people to shore would make it hard to disembark passengers without spreading the virus further. “How do you get people off the ship and into a better quarantine facility without exposing a lot of other people?” he asked.
The 75-year-old man who died Wednesday tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from the cruise to Mexico last month. He died a day after tests confirmed he had the coronavirus.
Placer County health officials said the man had underlying health conditions. He was the county’s second confirmed case of COVID-19. Officials said close contacts of the man were being quarantined and monitored for the illness.
“That’s close to home,” said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified as he stood on his lawn. “I’m in my 70s, so this is a big deal.”
Passengers on the vessel – both current and those who may have been exposed earlier – told the Los Angeles Times that the response to the outbreak by the company and health officials had been filled with missteps.
In particular, passengers said that Princess Cruises was lax on health screening protocols prior to boarding and withheld information about the risks they faced, even as the ship’s condition became international news.