7 cruise evac­uees in­fected, first tests dis­close

San Francisco Chronicle - Late Edition (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthias Gafni

Seven Grand Princess cruise ship pas­sen­gers quar­an­tined at Travis Air Force Base in Fair­field— all with no symp­toms — tested pos­i­tive for the coron­avirus, The Chron­i­cle has learned, as the first batch of swab re­sults from the vol­un­tary test­ing came back Fri­day.

The seven in­di­vid­u­als have been sent to a care fa­cil­ity out­side Travis for con­tin­ued care, a fed­eral of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the Travis quar­an­tine and test­ing told The Chron­i­cle.

The test re­sults raise ques­tions about the quar­an­tine and the fact that two­thirds of the 858 pas­sen­gers iso­lated on Travis Air Force Base have de­clined to be tested, of­ten at the en­cour­age­ment of fed­eral health of­fi­cials. The fed­eral of­fi­cial said that the seven pos­i­tives out of 110 tests would not change the op­tional test­ing, in­clud­ing for loved ones who may have been liv­ing in quar­an­tine with the in­fected pas­sen­gers.

“There is no manda­tory test­ing due to con­tact with a pos­i­tive in­di­vid­ual,” said the of­fi­cial, whom The Chron­i­cle agreed not to name be­cause this per­son was not au­tho­rized to speak to the me­dia. “There’s no change to the re­lease plan.”

Re­quests for com­ment from the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices and Travis Air Base of­fi­cials were not im­me­di­ately re­turned Satur­day.

A to­tal of 308 pas­sen­gers vol­un­teered to be tested ear­lier this week, but the rest of the re­sults have not re­turned yet. All of the Travis pas­sen­gers

who had not tested pos­i­tive or been hos­pi­tal­ized with symp­toms while there had stag­gered re­lease dates, start­ing Mon­day and end­ing Fri­day.

The large group of pas­sen­gers was mon­i­tored by fed­eral health of­fi­cials dur­ing their stay, get­ting tem­per­a­ture checks twice a day. De­spite Vice Pres­i­dent Pence’s vow that all the pas­sen­gers would be screened for the virus, only a third agreed to the test­ing. Pas­sen­gers said ad­min­is­tra­tors dis­suaded them, say­ing the 14­day quar­an­tine was suf­fi­cient and a test could po­ten­tially de­lay their re­lease. Oth­ers said the test­ing num­bers would have been higher if of­fered when pas­sen­gers first ar­rived at the air base, but there were not enough tests, per­son­nel or pro­tec­tive equip­ment.

John Swartzberg, a UC Berke­ley in­fec­tious dis­ease expert, said even with the pos­i­tive test re­sults of asymp­to­matic pas­sen­gers, de­ci­sions on re­leas­ing them back into the gen­eral pub­lic are in­cred­i­bly nu­anced.

“If th­ese peo­ple were in the quar­an­tine and they did not cross in­fect each other, then the 14 days of be­ing in quar­an­tine is a rea­son­able plan,” he said. “It’s not per­fect, but noth­ing is per­fect with this.”

There is a “very, very small” chance of get­ting ill after two weeks, Swartzberg said. He added that stud­ies are show­ing there are asymp­to­matic coron­avirus car­ri­ers and that in­fected in­di­vid­u­als with­out symp­toms can re­main con­ta­gious.

“Those are big un­knowns and it’s im­pos­si­ble to write a pol­icy where some­body gets re­leased and ab­so­lutely does not re­lease the virus,” he said. There is also ev­i­dence of coron­avirus false­neg­a­tive test re­sults, he said, so even test­ing is not fool­proof.

Ge­orge Ruther­ford, a UCSF pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy, agreed that the 14­day quar­an­tine should be suf­fi­cient — with com­plete iso­la­tion.

“If there was trans­mis­sion in the quar­an­tine fa­cil­ity, then it’s another story,” Ruther­ford said.

That has been a hot topic among pas­sen­gers who spoke to The Chron­i­cle. Many com­plained about how lo­gis­tics were han­dled after they dis­em­barked from the cruise ship, say­ing they were put on crowded buses with peo­ple re­mov­ing their masks to eat next to each other.

Pho­tos cir­cu­lated in those first days of pas­sen­gers crowded into a lobby and other com­mon ar­eas. One pas­sen­ger from the Sacra­mento area told The Chron­i­cle he has re­peat­edly com­plained about the lax na­ture of food de­liv­er­ies and com­mon ar­eas. For a while, pas­sen­gers all got cof­fee from the same spigot, he said.

“I firmly be­lieve this quar­an­tine was han­dled with great in­com­pe­tence,” he said in an email with pho­tos of the in­ter­mix­ing. He asked to not be named due to the tense at­mos­phere on the base among pas­sen­gers and fed­eral of­fi­cials. The Chron­i­cle agreed not to iden­tify the fed­eral of­fi­cial or the former pas­sen­ger in ac­cor­dance with its pol­icy on the use of anony­mous sources.

Ruther­ford also urged that close con­tacts of the seven new in­fected pas­sen­gers be further scru­ti­nized.

“I’d in­sist on test­ing close con­tacts (for in­stance, a spouse that shared the room), but I think I’d let the oth­ers go if they were asymp­to­matic after 14 days,” he said in an email. “It’s a judg­ment call.”

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