SAN FRANCISCO — Passengers on a cruise ship off the California coast were instructed to stay in their cabins as they awaited test results Friday that could show whether the coronavirus is circulating among the more than 3,500 people aboard.
A military helicopter crew lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-metre) Grand Princess by rope and later retrieved them for analysis at a lab as the vessel lay at sea off San Francisco, under orders to keep its distance from shore. Princess Cruises said 45 people were selected for testing.
Authorities undertook the testing after a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship died of the coronavirus and at least four others became infected.
“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
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 18 states.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed a US$8.3 billion measure to help tackle the outbreak. It provides federal public health agencies with money for tests and for potential vaccines and treatments and helps state and local governments prepare for the threat and respond to it.
Nine of the dead were from the same suburban Seattle nursing home, now under federal investigation. Families of nursing home residents voiced anger, having received conflicting information about the condition of their loved ones. One woman was told her mother had died, then got a call from a staffer who said her mother was doing well, only to find out she had, in fact, died, said Kevin Connolly, whose father-in-law is also a facility resident.
“This is the level of incompetence we’re dealing with,” Connolly said in front of the Life Care Center in Kirkland.
The investigation will determine whether the nursing home followed guidelines for preventing infections. Last April, the state fined it $67,000 over infection-control deficiencies after two flu outbreaks.
The coronavirus has infected around 100,000 people worldwide 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.
Some major businesses in the Seattle area, where researchers say the virus may have circulated undetected for weeks, have shut down some operations or urged employees to work from home. That includes Microsoft and Amazon, the two tech giants that together employ more than 100,000 people in the region.
King County is buying a motel for $4 million to house patients and hopes to have the first of them in place within days at the 84-room EconoLodge in Kent, about 20 miles (32 km) from Seattle. The rooms’ doors open to the outside rather than to a central hallway, reducing the likelihood of contact between patients.
The plan was met with resistance from local leaders, including Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla, who called it “ill-advised and dangerous” and warned: “At any point a patient can simply walk into our community and spread the virus.”
Around the country, New York’s mayor implored the federal government to send more test kits to his state, which on Thursday saw its caseload double overnight to 22, all of them in or near the city. Gap closed its New York office and asked employees to work from home until further notice after learning that an employee had the virus.
In Rhode Island, about 200 people were quarantined because of their connections to a school trip to Italy that has so far resulted in three cases. Amid four cases in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the risks remain low for most people planning trips to the state for spring break or baseball’s spring training.
On Wall Street, fears about the outbreak led to a sharp selloff Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 970 points, or 3.6%. The drop extended two weeks of wild swings in the market, with stocks fluctuating 2% or more for the fourth day in a row.
A Sacramento-area man who sailed on the Grand Princess in February later succumbed to the coronavirus. Two other passengers from that voyage have been hospitalized with the virus in Northern California, and two Canadians who recently sailed aboard the ship tested positive after returning home, officials said.
The ship off California was returning to San Francisco after visiting Hawaii. Some of the passengers remained on board after sailing on its previous voyage, to a string of Mexican ports.
Princess Cruises said that no cases of the virus had been confirmed among those still on the ship. But three dozen passengers 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.
“Once we have results from the tests,” she said, authorities “will determine the best location for the ship to berth.”
Michele Smith, a Grand Princess passenger, posted video on Facebook of the helicopter that arrived at the ship. Another video showed a crew member wearing gloves and a mask and spraying and wiping a handrail.
“We have crews constantly cleaning our ship,” Smith was heard saying.
In a post, Smith said she and her husband were not quarantined and were told that only the people who had been on the Mexico voyage or those showing flu-like symptoms had to isolate themselves.
“Spirits are as high as can be under these circumstances. We are blessed to be healthy, comfortable and well-fed,” she wrote.
But a late-night statement Thursday from the cruise line said all guests were asked to stay in their rooms while results were awaited, in keeping with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A passenger from the Mexico voyage, Judy Cadiz of Lodi, California, said she and her husband became ill afterward but did not given it much thought until learning a fellow traveller had died of the virus. Now, they cannot get a straight answer about how to get tested, she said.
With Mark Cadiz, 65, running a fever, the couple were worried not only about themselves but about the possibility they passed the infection on to others.
“They’re telling us to stay home, but nobody told me until yesterday to stay home. We were in Sacramento, we were in Martinez, we were in Oakland. We took a train home from the cruise,” Judy Cadiz said. “I really hope that we’re negative so nobody got infected.”
Geller reported from New York. Associated Press writers Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco; Christopher Weber in Los Angeles; Gene Johnson, Martha Bellisle and Carla K. Johnson in Seattle; Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington; and AP researcher Monika Mathur in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content
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