Virus fears strand cruise ship at sea
US death toll at 19 with 400 infections throughout nation
SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of anxious passengers were confined Saturday to a cruise ship circling in international waters off the San Francisco Bay Area, after 21 travelers and crew members tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The Grand Princess was forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel had been the breeding ground for a cluster of nearly 20 cases that resulted in at least one death after its previous voyage.
People on social media pleaded Saturday with elected officials to let the ship dock.
Karen Dever of Moorestown, New Jersey, agreed that she should be tested for coronavirus but wants officials to let her go if her results come back negative.
“Fourteen more days on this ship, I think by the end I will need a mental health visit,” she said with a laugh. “I’m an American. I should be able to come home.”
Meanwhile, Florida reported two coronavirus deaths — the first in the country outside the West Coast. Health officials said the people in their 70s died in Santa Rosa County in Florida’s Panhandle and in the Fort Myers area after traveling overseas. Florida also raised the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — to 14. An additional 88 test results are pending.
The U.S. death toll from the virus climbed to 19, with all but three of the victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to 400, scattered across about half of the states. Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Pennsylvania reported their first cases.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency Saturday as the New Rochelle coronavirus virus cluster continued to expand, with 23 new cases bringing Westchester County’s infected population to 57 people — the most in New York state.
Cuomo announced the number of people testing positive statewide has reached 76.
In California, state authorities were working with federal officials to bring the Grand Princess cruise ship to a noncommercial port over the weekend and test the 3,500 people aboard for the virus. There was no immediate word on where the vessel will dock.
Vice President Mike Pence met with cruise line executives Saturday in Florida and said that officials were still working on a plan.
“All passengers and crew will be tested for the coronavirus and quarantined as necessary,” Pence said.
Princess said in an email the ship is about 50 miles off San Francisco. It said a critically ill passenger was taken from the ship to a medical facility for treatment unrelated to the virus.
The Coast Guard used a helicopter to drop gloves and face masks to the ship, and the captain was awaiting “specific directives” on what to do next, the statement says.
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.
The uncertainty was wearing on passengers — and their families on land — as they passed a second full day confined to their rooms.
Santa Cruz County resident Rex Lawson, 86, said he and his wife were lucky because they have a balcony and fresh air and feel healthy, but he feels for travelers confined to interior rooms.
“It’s quite anxious because we don’t know what’s going on. I guess nobody knows what’s going on,” he said. “It looks like we get information from the television first and then the captain.” Several passengers expressed frustration that they had to learn from the news Friday that 21 people on the cruise had tested positive. Some worried their chances of infection increased the longer they stay on board.
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.
“I don’t need to have the numbers (of U.S. cases) double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said while touring the CDC in Atlanta. “And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either. OK? It wasn’t their fault either. And they are mostly American, so I can live either way with it.”
The ship was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was held off the California coast Wednesday so 46 people with possible coronavirus symptoms could be tested.Health officials in Madera and Santa Cruz counties Saturday confirmed two more cases in California. Ventura County said Friday it had tested five residents who had been on the earlier cruise; one person was positive.
Some passengers who had been on the Mexico trip stayed aboard for the current voyage — increasing crew members’ exposure to the virus.
People walk in a sparse departure terminal Saturday at JFK airport in New York as concern over the coronavirus grows.