Virus cases linked to cruise ship off Cal­i­for­nia

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Olga R. Ro­driguez

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Twenty-one peo­ple aboard a mam­moth cruise ship off the Cal­i­for­nia coast tested pos­i­tive for the new coro­n­avirus, in­clud­ing 19 crew mem­bers, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence an­nounced Fri­day, amid ev­i­dence the ves­sel was the breed­ing ground for a deadly clus­ter of more than 10 cases dur­ing its pre­vi­ous voy­age.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials have been work­ing with Cal­i­for­nia au­thor­i­ties and “we have de­vel­oped a plan to bring the ship to a non-com­mer­cial port,” Pence said. “All pas­sen­gers and crew will be tested for the virus. Those that will need to be quar­an­tined will be quar­an­tined. Those who will re­quire med­i­cal help will re­ceive it.”

Pence said 46 of the more than 3,500 peo­ple on board were tested in the first round. A mil­i­tary he­li­copter crew low­ered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-me­ter) Grand Princess by rope Thurs­day and later re­trieved them for anal­y­sis as the ves­sel waited off San Fran­cisco, un­der or­ders to keep its dis­tance from shore.

Health of­fi­cials try­ing to es­tab­lish whether the virus is cir­cu­lat­ing on the Grand Princess un­der­took the test­ing af­ter re­port­ing that a pas­sen­ger on a pre­vi­ous voy­age of the ship, in Fe­bru­ary, died of the dis­ease.

In the past few days, health au­thor­i­ties dis­closed that at least 10 other peo­ple who were on the same jour­ney also were found to be in­fected. And some pas­sen­gers on that trip stayed aboard for the cur­rent voy­age.

“We know the coro­n­avirus man­i­fested among the pre­vi­ous pas­sen­gers ... we will be test­ing ev­ery­one on the ship, we will be quar­an­tin­ing as nec­es­sary,” Pence said. “We an­tic­i­pate that they will be quar­an­tined on the ship, they will not need to dis­em­bark.”

An­other Princess cruise ship, the Di­a­mond Princess, was quar­an­tined for two weeks in Yoko­hama, Ja­pan, last month be­cause of the virus, and ul­ti­mately about 700 of the 3,700 peo­ple aboard be­came in­fected in what ex­perts pro­nounced a pub­lic-health fail­ure, with the ves­sel es­sen­tially be­com­ing a float­ing germ fac­tory.

Mean­while, the U.S. death toll from the coro­n­avirus climbed to 14, with all but one vic­tim in Wash­ing­ton state, while the num­ber of in­fec­tions swelled to over 200, scat­tered across about half the states. Penn­syl­va­nia, In­di­ana, Min­nesota and Ne­braska re­ported their first cases.

On Wall Street, stocks swung wildly as fears mounted over the po­ten­tial dam­age to the global econ­omy from fac­tory shut­downs, travel bans, quar­an­tines and can­cel­la­tions of events big and small — a list that grew to in­clude the world-fa­mous South by South­west arts fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas, which was set to be­gin next week.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed an $8.3 bil­lion mea­sure to help pub­lic health agen­cies deal with cri­sis and spur de­vel­op­ment of vac­cines and treat­ments.

World­wide, the virus has in­fected more than 100,000 peo­ple and killed over 3,400, the vast ma­jor­ity of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those in­fected have re­cov­ered.

Most of the dead in the U.S. were from sub­ur­ban Seat­tle’s Life Care Center nurs­ing home, now the sub­ject of fed­eral and state in­ves­ti­ga­tions that could lead to sanc­tions against it, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble takeover of its man­age­ment. Wash­ing­ton state has the na­tion’s big­gest con­cen­tra­tion of cases, with at least 70.

Thirty med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als from the U.S. Pub­lic Health Ser­vice will ar­rive Satur­day at the nurs­ing home to help care for pa­tients and pro­vide re­lief to the ex­hausted staff, said Dow Con­stan­tine, ex­ec­u­tive in charge of Seat­tle’s King County.

“We are grate­ful the cav­alry is ar­riv­ing. It will make rapid change in the con­di­tions there,” he said.

The nurs­ing home was down to 69 res­i­dents af­ter 15 were taken to the hospital in the pre­ced­ing 24 hours, Con­stan­tine said.

Wash­ing­ton state also is set­ting up a com­mand center ded­i­cated to nurs­ing homes, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Some ma­jor busi­nesses in the Seat­tle area — in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft and Ama­zon, which to­gether em­ploy more than 100,000 peo­ple in the re­gion — have shut down op­er­a­tions or urged em­ploy­ees to work from home. The Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton called off classes at its three Seat­tle-area cam­puses for the next two weeks and will in­stead teach its 57,000 stu­dents on­line. And a comics con­ven­tion next week in Seat­tle that was ex­pected to draw about 100,000 peo­ple was can­celed.

In Cal­i­for­nia, the ship was re­turn­ing to San Fran­cisco af­ter vis­it­ing Hawaii.

A Sacra­mento-area man who sailed aboard the Grand Princess last month dur­ing a visit to a se­ries of Mex­i­can ports later suc­cumbed to the virus, Cal­i­for­nia au­thor­i­ties said. Oth­ers who were on that voy­age also have tested pos­i­tive in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Canada.

Three dozen pas­sen­gers on the Grand Princess have had flu-like symp­toms over the past two weeks or so, said Mary Ellen Car­roll, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of San Fran­cisco’s Depart­ment of Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

An epi­demi­ol­o­gist who stud­ies the spread of virus par­ti­cles said the re­cir­cu­lated air from a cruise ship’s ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem, plus the close quar­ters and com­mu­nal set­tings, make pas­sen­gers and crew vul­ner­a­ble to in­fec­tious dis­eases.

“They’re not de­signed as quar­an­tine fa­cil­i­ties, to put it mildly,” said Don Mil­ton of the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land. “You’re go­ing to am­plify the in­fec­tion by keep­ing peo­ple on the boat.”

He said the fall­out from the ship quar­an­tined in Ja­pan demon­strates the ur­gent need to move peo­ple off the ship.

“My ad­vice is to get peo­ple off and into a safer quar­an­tine en­vi­ron­ment than a cruise ship,” Mil­ton said.

Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Par­adise, Cal­i­for­nia, said they are a bit wor­ried but feel safe in their room aboard the Grand Princess.

MICHELE SMITH

A cruise ship worker cleans a rail­ing on the Grand Princess on Thurs­day as it waits off the Cal­i­for­nia coast.

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