Gov. Ron DeSantis called on the U.S. government Saturday to release 61 Floridians currently being housed at an air base in Marietta, Georgia, and return them to the Sunshine State.
The passengers were previously aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which remains docked at the Port of Oakland in California after 21 aboard— 19 crew and 2 passengers — were found to have tested positive for COVID-19. Only 46 people on board are known to have been tested.
“Yesterday I sent a letter to @HHSGov Assistant Secretary Robert Kadlec requesting the release of 61 Florida residents from Georgia, many of whom are elderly, who were previously aboard the Grand Princess voyage outside of California,” DeSantis tweeted. “It is time to bring these Floridians home.”
Upon entry into Florida, DeSantis says, each individual will have to undergo testing for COVID-19, self-isolate for 14 days, and cooperate with public health officials’ directives. DeSantis said coordination to bring these individuals back to Florida would be led by Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees and the Florida Department of Health, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Meanwhile, more than five days after docking in the Port of Oakland, crew members appeared to remain stranded on board the ship in San Francisco Bay. Even as most passengers have disembarked, with some being housed under quarantine at locations around the U.S., the fate of the crew — 522 of whom are from the Philippines — remains uncertain.
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A Wamos Air charter flight carrying Grand Princess crew was scheduled to depart at 6:30 p.m. Saturday from San Francisco International Airport and head to Clark Air Base outside Manila, said airport duty manager Maria Buyco. Crew members will go directly from buses to the plane, without passing through the airport, she said. Another Wamos Air charter flight carrying crew is scheduled to depart from San Francisco Sunday at 4:30 p.m. to Belgrade, Serbia.
A spokesman for California’s Office of Emergency Services could not be reached for comment.
There remained some confusion about who was in charge of handling the operation to provide crew relief. In an email, Princess representatives said it was taking its orders from public health officials.
“We are facilitating it based on their direction,” company officials said.
Separately, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control stated that it is not involved in the repatriation of crew members.
“This effort is being handled by Diamond Princess and the [U.S. State Department],” said Suzanne Sellman, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S. State Department did not return multiple requests for comment.
A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said his agency was coordinating movement of the vessel out of Oakland, but did not know the status of the crew on board.
The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment.
The fate of The Grand Princess has drawn national attention, with renowned Chef Jose Andres setting up a makeshift feeding area at the port. On Saturday. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) tweeted “Wisconsinites from the Grand Princess Cruise Ship are being held by the Trump Admin at out-of-state facilities with horrible conditions. They need to be released so we can bring them home to their families. I called @HHSGov today & demanded action to reunite them with loved ones.”
In a letter dated Saturday, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), whose district includes an Air Force base where passengers are being housed under quarantine, sent a letter to the Trump administration demanding conditions at the base improve.
But a spokesman for the congressman said he had no additional information on the crew.
The facts surrounding an initial infection point for the vessel also remain in dispute. The outbreak aboard the Grand Princess is responsible for California’s first COVID-19-related death, an elderly man from northern California who had been on the ship’s Feb. 11-21 voyage to Mexico.
While Princess officials say an infection occurred at some point during that cruise , California officials say the man was already infected when he boarded in San Francisco.
Executives at Miami-based Carnival Corp. said they first found out about the coronavirus link to the Grand Princess on March 2, the Wall Street Journal reported. By then, the man who later succumbed to the virus had already returned to the Bay Area, and the ship left again from San Francisco bound for Hawaii Feb. 21.
Nineteen Grand Princess crew members and two passengers first tested positive for the virus on March 6. The ship docked in Oakland on March 9 and began evacuating passengers.
Princess officials said everyone, including crew, is being medically screened, though not everyone is receiving coronavirus tests. They said HHS and CDC teams determine the sequence and qualify who gets tested.
Princess said crew who stay onboard in quarantine after the ship leaves Oakland would be placed in a cleaned and sanitized guest stateroom with a balcony. It said it considers its employees “family” and is working to compensate them accordingly.
“Our medical team remains onboard and will be supplemented with additional resources from Princess and other service providers which is being sorted out now,” the company said. “All service providers are trained in the proper use of personal protective equipment.”