Cruise ship to be held off California for virus testing

SAN FRANCISCO — A cruise ship that was expected to dock in San Francisco on Thursday will be kept offshore until its thousands of passengers can be tested for the coronavirus, after a previous passenger died from the illness.

Several passengers aboard the Grand Princess had symptoms that could be coronavirus, flu or the common cold, health officials said.

The state planned to fly COVID-19 testing kits out to the ship, which won’t be allowed to dock until the test results are completed, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” he said.

The tests will be conducted at a San Francisco Bay Area laboratory and results could be available in as little as four hours, the governor said.

The announcement came as California became the third U.S. state to declare a state of emergency over the virus, after Washington and Florida.

Hawaii joined them Wednesday, with no cases there yet and the governor saying an emergency declaration would help them prepare for a possible outbreak.

Newsom said California is particularly focused on senior centres, nursing homes and other care facilities where people live together in light of the outbreak in Washington state that has already killed 10 there.

Six new California cases were confirmed, including a medical screener at Los Angeles International Airport who was said to have mild symptoms and was under quarantine at home.

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It was unclear if the screener contracted the virus through their work at the airport or from so-called community transmission, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. No travellers screened at the Los Angeles airport have tested positive for the virus.

California has had 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus. While most people have mild symptoms, such as fever and a cough, health officials on Wednesday confirmed that California had the first fatal case in the U.S.

A 71-year-old man with underlying health conditions died at a hospital in Roseville in Placer County, near Sacramento. He may have contracted the infection while on round-trip Grand Princess trip from San Francisco that visited Mexico last month, authorities said.

Another passenger who contracted the COVID-19 virus was in stable condition at a hospital in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

The cruise ship currently has about 2,500 passengers, and Newsom said about half are Californians.

The passenger contingent includes 62 guests who were on the cruise to Mexico but stayed aboard the Grand Princess for a current cruise to Hawaii. Those passengers were told to stay in their staterooms until cleared by medical staff, according to a message to guests Wednesday from Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Princess Cruises.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is working with California authorities to contact other passengers from the previous trip, CDC Director Robert Redfield said Wednesday at a White House briefing.

“We’re at the very beginning of that, looking at the manifest to make sure that we understand who has gotten off the cruise and where they got off the cruise,” Redfield said.

The cruise company also operates the Diamond Princess, which docked in Japan in January. Dozens of passengers contracted the virus. Hundreds of passengers were flown to U.S. military bases to be quarantined until tests cleared them.

In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, with more than 3,200 deaths. WHO reports that the COVID-19 virus is more fatal than the common flu.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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