Virus fears strand cruise ship at sea

US death toll at 19 with 400 in­fec­tions through­out na­tion

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Daisy Nguyen and Janie Har

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.

SPENCER PLATT/GETTY

Peo­ple walk in a sparse de­par­ture ter­mi­nal Satur­day at JFK air­port in New York as con­cern over the coro­n­avirus grows.

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