The Grand Princess, the Princess Cruises ship that made a roundtrip from San Francisco to Mexico in mid-February and returned with at least two passengers sick with the coronavirus, is currently being held off the California coast as testing of 21 passengers and crew members showing symptoms takes place.
Reporters from national broadcasts including MSNBC and CBS News are on site down at the Pier 27 cruise terminal this morning, broadcasting live about the in-limbo cruise ship. As discussed yesterday, the first death from the coronavirus in California was a 71-year-old Placer County man who had been onboard this ship when it cruised to Mexico and back, returning February 21. A second passenger on that cruise from Sonoma County has also been confirmed to have the virus, and is now in isolation at an unnamed North Bay hospital.
Now, as KPIX reports, the ship is returning to port after sailing to Hawaii and back, and Governor Gavin Newsom has barred it from docking in San Francisco until testing of sick passengers and others has taken place. The Coast Guard delivered an unknown number of sampling kits to the ship Thursday morning by helicopter, and cruise line officials are saying that the number of people to be tested is under 100. The samples will then be flown in batches by helicopter to be tested at a state lab in Richmond.
On Wednesday, cruise ship passengers were informed of the situation in a memo from Princess Cruises, and they were told that the guests who had been identified for virus testing had all been told to remain in their staterooms. The New York Times reports that 62 passengers who had been onboard the Mexico cruise with the infected passengers remain on the ship today.
The situation is concerning for many reasons, not the least of which is that a different Princess Cruises ship, the Diamond Princess, became a vector for the coronavirus, leading to some 700 infections after initially there were only 10. That may have been due to the fact that the ship itself was used as a quarantine facility in Japan, though it remains unclear how and why the virus spread so widely.
If 11 passengers and 10 crew members on the Hawaii cruise — some of whom may have been on the ship since it set sail to Mexico on February 11 — are already showing symptoms, and tests are being administered to around 100 passengers and crew, how many more could be unknowingly carrying the virus? And do you then quarantine all 2,500 people onboard?
One sick crew member was already medically evacuated from the ship when it docked in Hawaii.
Former FEMA official Mark Neveau tells ABC 7 that holding the ship offshore and doing the testing there is the right move. "There's an inconvenience, no question, but it's a strong, bold correct move to protect them, as well as the disease spreading throughout the seventh-largest economy in the world."
"It is a dynamic situation as it relates to the cruise ship, but nothing that should be alarming,” Newsom said Wednesday night, per KPIX. “Appropriate protocols are in place, and as I said, the ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers and appropriately assess the protocols and procedures once people make it back on a to state land, state property."
Newsom added, "We are working closely with the City and County of San Francisco, the port commission and of course, the mayor and mayor’s office. We are grateful for their support and for their reasoned response to this."
Meanwhile, the entire cruise industry is expected to be hit hard by this news, and the spread of the virus in general. Not only are cruise ships now going to be heavily associated with this pandemic, but senior citizens are the primary demographic of cruise customers, and this virus appears to disproportionately affect seniors. Carnival Corp., the parent company of Princess Cruises, already reporting significant cancellations for 2020.
Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises