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California prepares to dock cruise ship with 21 virus cases

Posted at 4:30 AM, Mar 08, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As the U.S. death toll from the new coronavirus reached at least 21, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the mayor of Oakland sought Sunday to reassure the public that none of the passengers from a ship carrying people with the virus will be released into the public before undergoing a 14-day quarantine.

The Grand Princess carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries is expected to dock Monday in Oakland, in the east San Francisco Bay, and was idling off the coast Sunday as officials prepared a port site. Those needing acute medical care will come off first.

“This is a time that we must be guided by facts and not fears, and our public deserves to know what’s going on," Mayor Libby Schaaf said.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory against travel on cruise ships. “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship," the department said in a statement on its website. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “notes increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment."

Meanwhile, the number of infections in the United States climbed above 500 as testing for the virus increased.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's allergy and infectious diseases chief, said Sunday that widespread closure of a city or region, as Italy has done, is “possible.”

“You don’t want to alarm people, but given the spread we see, you know anything is possible and that’s the reason why we’ve got to be prepared to take whatever action is appropriate to contain and mitigate the outbreak,” Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday."

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said communities will need to start thinking about canceling large gatherings, closing schools and letting more employees work from home, as many companies have done in the Seattle, Washington, area amid an outbreak at a care home that has killed 18.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency Sunday after the number of confirmed cases there doubled from the previous day to 14.

On the Grand Princess, Donna LaGesse and her sister-in-law Jackie Eilers had a small celebration in their cabin Saturday night after the captain announced the ship would soon dock. She said they're maintaining a positive attitude, watching exercise videos and re-runs of “The Love Boat."

“We’re keeping our senses of humor. We’re laughing at the whole situation,” said LaGesse, 64, of Greenville, North Carolina. “We’re lucky because we have a room with a balcony so we can get some fresh air.”

Fellow passengers Steven and Michele Smith of Paradise, California, said they hope their time spent on the ship in quarantine will count toward the 14-day quarantine period on land, but they said officials have not yet provided an answer.

“We would love to get credit for the three or four days we’ve spent in our cabin,” Steven Smith said.

Beginning around 2 p.m. Sunday, authorities began taking passengers out of their cabins for escorted walks to get fresh air on the port deck.

They are starting with people from the interior cabins without windows, Steven Smith said, although they could not see the people and could not be sure how long the free periods lasted.

The Smiths do not know when their exercise period will occur or how long it will last. “If they let me out of my room I wouldn’t want to come back,” Smith joked.

The Oakland port was chosen for the ship to dock because of its proximity to an airport and a military base, Newsom said. U.S. passengers will be transported to military bases in California, Texas and Georgia, where they will be tested for COVID-19 and remain under a 14-day quarantine, federal officials said.

The 1,113-member crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, Newsom said.

“That ship will turn around — and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship — but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay,” he said.

The Department of State was working with the home countries of several hundred passengers to arrange their repatriation.

Canada announced it was sending a plane to collect nearly 240 Canadians on the Grand Princess. Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said those who have not shown any symptoms of the new virus will be taken to a military base in Trenton, Ontario, for a two-week quarantine.

The Grand Princess had been forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence the vessel was the breeding ground for a cluster of at least 20 cases, including one death, after a previous voyage. It was held off the coast Wednesday so people with symptoms could be tested.

Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, said it's believed a 71-year-old Northern California man who later died of the virus was probably sick when he boarded the ship for a Feb. 11 cruise to Mexico.

The passenger visited the medical center the day before disembarking with symptoms of respiratory illness, he said. He likely infected his dining room server, who also tested positive for the virus, Tarling said, as did two people traveling with the man.

Off the coast of Florida Sunday, the Regal Princess cruise ship was awaiting test results for the new coronavirus on two crew members, then cleared hours later to enter port, authorities said.

The Regal Princess was supposed to have docked Sunday morning in Port Everglades but was instead sailing up and down the coast. The crew members in question had transferred more than two weeks ago from the Grand Princess cruise ship in California where nearly two dozen on board have tested positive for the virus, including 19 crew members, according to Princess Cruises.

The cruise line said in a statement earlier Sunday that the crew members of the Regal Princess did not exhibit respiratory symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and were well beyond the advised 14-day virus incubation period.

Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. 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.

Hundreds of Americans aboard that ship were flown to military bases in California and other states for two-week quarantines. Some later were hospitalized with symptoms.

Private companies and some public venues in the U.S. have been taking safety measures in an effort to limit the virus' spread.

Columbia University in New York released a statement Sunday night that said a member of its community has been quarantined because they were exposed to the virus. The university suspended classes Monday and Tuesday, and will hold remote classes the remainder of the week.

The community member has not been diagnosed “at this point” with COVID-19, according to the statement.

The largest school district in Northern California canceled classes for a week when it was discovered a family in the district was exposed to COVID-19. Elk Grove Unified has nearly 64,000 students.

Kendyl Knight learned Saturday that her prom was off while she was in a salon chair getting her makeup done.

“You can’t really be mad about it, but it is very disappointing," said the 16-year-old, who went out for dinner and got photos taken with her friends anyway. She said she “may be young and naive," but she is not concerned about the new virus.

“Honestly the decision to cancel school seems kind of extreme," Knight said.

On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he would consider when it may become necessary to cancel large campaign rallies. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden had no plans to curtail theirs.

“In the best of all possible worlds” the three candidates should probably limit travel and avoid crowds, Sanders told CNN, “but right now, we’re running as hard as we can.”


Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Robert Gillies in Toronto and Brian Hannon in Phoenix contributed to this report.


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