SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — A passenger aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship in need of medical attention will be removed from the vessel which was still being being held off the coast of San Francisco.
Two passengers on the ship said Friday night that the captain has notified them they are moving to a location 20 miles off the coast for easier delivery of supplies. The captain said a guest requires medical attention and may be airlifted out, the passengers said.
While health officials said about 1,100 crew members will remain aboard, passengers could be disembarked to face quarantine, possibly at U.S. military bases or other sites. That’s what happened to hundreds of passengers who were exposed to the virus on another cruise ship in January.
Passengers and crew members aboard the Grand Princess, which has been in a holding pattern for nearly two days, have tested positive for the coronavirus and will head to a “non-commercial port,” Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday.
“Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it,” Vice President Michael Pence said Friday as he announced that 19 crew members and two passengers had tested positive for COVID-19.
President Donald Trump, speaking Friday at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said he would prefer not to allow the passengers onto American soil but will defer to the recommendations of medical experts.
“They would like to have the people come off. I’d rather have the people stay but … I told them to make the final decision,” the president said.
“I don’t need to have the numbers (of U.S. cases) double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump said in a Fox News interview. “And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either. Okay? It wasn’t their fault either. And they are mostly American, so I can live either way with it.”
In the meantime, passengers aboard the Grand Princess remained holed up in their rooms as they awaited word about the fate of the ship. Some said ship officials only informed them of the confirmed coronavirus cases after they first learned about it from news reports.
We are awaiting official specific plans for future positioning of the ship from relevant authorities. We will continue to closely follow the guidance of the CDC and other federal and state government authorities, and provide updates as they are made available.
— Princess Cruises (@PrincessCruises) March 7, 2020
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COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
The cruise ship had already been declared the source of a cluster of coronavirus cases from a previous voyage.
At least five passengers from a prior Grand Princess cruise — a roundtrip journey from San Francisco to Mexico on Feb. 11-21 — have fallen ill with the virus. Two remain hospitalized in Sonoma County and two were home quarantined in Contra Costa. A fifth case — a 71-year-old adult male Rocklin resident — has died. Sunnyvale officials were also awaiting word if a 72-year-old man, who family members say was on the cruise ship, also had died from complications from the illness.
In a high seas medical drama Thursday, the California Air National Guard airlifted four medical staffers and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention infectious illness specialist to the cruise ship more than 100 miles off shore. They were lowered onto the ship’s pool area along with medical testing kits.
Over the next several hours, the medical personnel took blood samples from 45 passengers and crew members suffering from flu-like symptoms. The samples then were hoisted up to two Black hawk helicopters and flown to a California state lab in Richmond for confirmation.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had banned the ship from docking at any California port until the test results were determined. The determination came on Friday, sending local, state and national officials to decide what’s next.
Newsom also updated President Donald Trump on the situation with the cruise ship Friday morning.
Several final destinations, including San Francisco, have been under consideration. Officials do not want a repeat of what happened on the the Diamond Princess in Japan where the illness rapidly spread while the ship was moored at a pier in quarantine.
Mary Ellen Carroll, the San Francisco Director of the Department of Emergency Management, at a Thursday morning news conference said there were several factors that needed to be considered.
“Many of those people (who had fallen in during the 15-day cruise) have recovered and are no longer showing flu-like symptoms,” she said. “Once we have results from the (coronavirus) tests, the CDC and the state will determine the most appropriate location for the ship to berth. That location needs to provide for the safety of the surrounding community as well as the passengers.”
“The CDC and the state are considering a number of locations including San Francisco,” she added.
Dr. Henry “Chip” Chambers, an infectious disease specialist and UCSF professor, said there was a medical urgency to get the ill passengers off the ship and away from the other passengers.
He points out that it will be a challenge to get all the passengers off the ship, but consider what happened to the Diamond Princess in Japan: it left passengers quarantined onboard for two weeks. 704 people got infected and four of them died.
“I would have trouble regarding that a resounding success,” Chambers said. He also said it depends how well the patients were isolated and how well quarantine procedures were followed. It also depends on the test results.
“My gut is it’s probably a good idea to get people off the boat,” he said.
Concerns had been mounting among the current passengers ever since the trip’s final stop in Mexico was cancelled and they were told they were returning to San Francisco. Among those was Laura Dunn, who took to social media expressing fear and anxiety.
“I am trying to remain upbeat and positive about this sailing we are on but here are my honest thoughts. Just my thoughts and I am not a doctor,” she tweeted. “We have been inside this ship since leaving Hawaii. The decks have been closed the whole time per dangerous storm conditions. Other than staying in our cabins the entire time, we have basically been elbow to elbow with the entire population of this ship.”
“There are a certain amount of folks who were on the previous sailing who are now being checked. But we all have been breathing the same inside air and in elevators, restaurants etc with any one of these who were previously exposed. It bothers me going home to my town, to my grand babies and family having been exposed to this.. Just the things that kept me up last night.”
Chris Grady boarded the Grand Princess on February 21st in San Francisco. He told KPIX he knew something was up after the cruise left the big island of Hawaii.
“There’s a channel on the TV that shows where the ship is going and I noticed it. We were going straight toward Mexico and then, all of a sudden, just kind of turned and headed toward San Francisco for a few hours. So I knew something was kind of up,” Grady explained to KPIX via Facebook Messenger.
Grady said information about what’s going has been hard to come by from Princess Cruises.
“I definitely feel I’ve been kept in the dark a little bit. Because I’ve learned a lot more by going online and reading what’s going on. Here, they’ve been pretty vague. I’m not sure if they’re trying not to scare people,” Grady said.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report