OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Passengers awoke Sunday for a fifth day confined to their staterooms aboard the cruise liner Grand Princess which has been in a holding pattern off the San Mateo coast because of a coronavirus outbreak that has infected at least 21 people.
Speaking via the ship’s public-address system, the captain told the more than 2,000 passengers that their extended, 15-day voyage would be ending within hours in Oakland. Princess Cruise lines quickly followed with an email statement confirming those plans.
Then, just 10 minutes later, a second email arrived. The plan had already suffered a setback, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had delayed the arrival until Monday.
“CDC has just informed us that further modifications of the plan are necessary and will impact the arrival of the ship,” cruise officials said in the email. “The ship will now arrive in the Port of Oakland on Monday, time TBD.”
After considering several “non-commercial port” destinations for the ship, it was decided Saturday that the busy Port of Oakland would be the best choice.
“The Port of Oakland was selected as the best site for the ship to disembark,” California Office Of Emergency Services officials said in a release. “There are limited docks that will be able to dock a ship of that size and the Port of Oakland location was the easiest to seal off, securely move passengers toward their isolation destinations and protect the safety of the public.”
They added that the passengers will not be able to simply walk away once the ship docks.
“Oakland’s role in this operation is to support our state and federal authorities as they conduct a critical public health mission to help those impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “I appreciate Governor Newsom’s leadership and have been assured no one will be quarantined in Oakland, nor will any passengers be released into the general public.”
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COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
Aboard ship Sunday, it was another day of confinement and mounting fears that, with each breath or the slightest contact with a crew member delivering food to their staterooms, there might be a threat of an infection from the new virus.
Nearly all the passengers have had access to the internet since the cruise ship’s voyage was cut short after touring the Hawaiian islands. They are well aware of what happened aboard the Diamond Princess last month in Japan. The ship was quarantined in a port for several weeks and the illness spread rapidly, eventually infecting 704 people and killing four of them.
American passengers from that ill-fated voyage were airlifted to two military bases in the United States — Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. They were screened for any sign of the illness when they boarded and departed the flights. All were required to undergo at least a 14-day quarantine.
More than 30 passengers required hospitalization with nearly a dozen flown to Nebraska to be housed at a special bio-hazard unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“I’m told that the Trump Administration has decided to quarantine some passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship (those who are currently asymptotic) at Lackland AFB in San Antonio,” Texas congressman Joaquin Castro tweeted Saturday night. “Our city has already helped quarantine 230 people including treatment for 11 infected persons.”
The plan for the Grand Princess sounds much similar except cruise ship officials said infected crew members will be treated aboard the ship while it remains at the Port of Oakland for an undetermined time.
“According to Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, following health screenings, guests who are California residents will go to a federally-operated facility within California for testing and isolation, while non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states,” the company said. “Crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship.”
Many passengers were also well aware of the ongoing health crisis developing around another Grand Princess cruise — a round trip San Francisco-to-Mexico voyage from Feb. 11-21.
One passenger has died from complications of the illness — a 71-year-old Rocklin man. Twelve others have fallen ill infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Two were hospitalized in Sonoma County, three others have mostly recovered in Placer County, two were home quarantined in Contra Costa County, one was being treated in Fresno, one in Santa Cruz County, one was hospitalized in Alameda County and others in Chicago and Florida.
When it comes to the most recent voyage, medical experts agree there was now a real urgency to prevent the spread to others on board.
“The ship is an enormous problem,” said Dr. Arthur Reingold, a UC Berkeley epidemiologist who used to work at the CDC. “I’m concerned that other people on the ship are infected some who may well develop symptoms over the incubation period.”
Dr. Henry “Chip” Chambers, an infectious disease specialist and UCSF professor, said it was crucial to get the ill passengers off the ship and away from other passengers.
He points out that it will be a challenge to get all the passengers off the ship but contrasts that challenge to what happened in Japan to the Diamond Princess.
“I would have trouble regarding that [Japan shipboard quarantine] a resounding success,” Chambers said.
He 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.
Passengers also agree it is time for them to get off the ship.
“We just got word we will dock in Port of Oakland tomorrow with embarkation to take a couple of days,” gadgetgirl6 tweeted from onboard the ship. “Since we live in Calif, we will be taken to a federal facility in state to be tested. No word how long or where. Any ACLU attorney out there can tell us our rights?”
Maureen James and her husband Bill of San Mateo were passing the time in their 300-square-foot cabin until further notice.
“I think we were fine until today (Saturday), I think today since we’ve been quarantined since Wednesday, today we were like we need answers, we need to know where we’re going, we need to be tested,” James said via FaceTime.