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Tourism & Cruises

Coronavirus test kits air lifted to Grand Princess cruise, passengers locked down

When 2,422 passengers boarded the Grand Princess cruise ship in San Francisco on Feb. 21, they thought they were headed for a 15-day vacation. Then, as the cruise ship headed from Hawaii to Mexico, authorities in California confirmed that a passenger from the ship’s previous cruise had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus spreading across the globe.

Now, passengers are in for a longer, more isolated kind of trip.

The California Department of Health, working with federal partners in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered test kits by helicopter Thursday to the Grand Princess ship, now floating off the coast of California, as health officials try to determine how many of the passengers and 1,111 crew members on board may have COVID-19. Eleven passengers and 10 crew members aboard the cruise ship have reported symptoms of the virus, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“It is expected that testing on the ship will take several hours and the kits will then be transported to CDPH’s lab in Richmond for results,” CDPH officials said in an email to The Bee.

After a 71-year-old man became California’s first reported coronavirus death Wednesday morning following his cruise on the Grand Princess Feb. 11-21, the state declared a public health emergency and is scrambling to identify hundreds more people who may have been exposed during that sailing. Two other former passengers have also tested positive for the virus, the CDC said.

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Princess Cruises, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corporation, canceled the ship’s next cruise, scheduled for March 7.

The Grand Princess will remain off the coast in the San Francisco Bay Area while those potentially exposed during the trip to Mexico are tested, according to California Governor Gavin Newsom and cruise line officials.

“To facilitate this testing, the U.S. Coast Guard will deliver sampling kits to the ship the morning of March 5 via helicopter,” the cruise company said in an updated news release. “Our onboard medical team will administer the test and the samples will be sent in batches by helicopter to a lab in Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco.”

Sixty-two passengers from the previous cruise who stayed on the ship for the current cruise were confined to their cabins on Wednesday. By Thursday, all passengers on board were instructed to stay in their cabins.

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“After lunch today we ask you to return to your staterooms and we will transition to have all future meals distributed by room service,” said the captain of the ship in an announcement, according to a video on YouTube posted by two sisters on board who go by Hot Chicken. The captain urged passengers to stay six feet apart, a recommendation from the CDC.

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Princess Cruises said the CDC has not ordered crew to wear personal protective equipment. Crew members with flu-like symptoms are staying in their cabins.

The Hot Chicken sisters, Leah and Laura, who said they are from Nevada, are now confined to their cabin. They described the vacation as a “bucket list cruise.”

“We are doing well, we are making the best of it,” one said.

Nearly 98,000 people have contracted COVID-19 since it originated late last year, including more than 220 in the U.S. A man in his 70s from Santa Rosa County, Florida has been diagnosed with coronavirus in Florida, and four more Floridians in other states have been diagnosed with the flu-like illness, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

This story was originally published March 5, 2020 6:49 PM.

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