Grand Princess passengers confined to rooms as cruise awaits coronavirus test results off California coast
Thousands of passengers are being directed to stay in their rooms on Princess Cruises' Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California as they wait for coronavirus test results, Kailee Higgins Ott, a passenger on the ship, told USA TODAY in an email.
"We were just informed that after lunch time we need to stay in our rooms until we get the test results. The tests should be finished in about 4-6 hours and we will know results in the morning," said Higgins Ott, who is not one of the fewer than 100 passengers who had to be tested.
Higgins Ott told USA TODAY everyone is being "confined to their rooms" whether or not they were among the group tested.
"There were a lot of people in the lobby, there were a lot of people in the store, getting food and chips," Higgins Ott said. "People tried to get into the dining rooms, to do last-minute things."
In a video recording obtained by USA TODAY, the ship's captain can be heard announcing the new restrictions. "CDC has also recommended that guests should remain in their staterooms for the remainder of the cruise. I know this will be difficult, disappointing to hear, however, after lunch today, we ask you to return to your staterooms."
Princess Cruises confirmed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised guests stay in their rooms for the remainder of a cruise but had not declared a quarantine.
Passengers on board the Grand Princess may have been exposed to coronavirus after sailing with 62 passengers who company officials say had previously been on a voyage with a man who eventually died from the virus.
A Coast Guard helicopter lowered test kits onto the 951-foot Grand Princess by rope as the vessel lay at anchor off Northern California, and authorities said the results would be available on Friday.
Kate Larson, of ABC, tweeted a video of the captain's announcement.
"A helicopter operation is about to take place," a voice can be heard saying over the loudspeaker in the video. The upper deck was to be closed and some passengers were to be evacuated from their rooms.
While the ship was meant to arrive to port in San Francisco, it is is unclear when and where the ship will be able to dock after testing is complete. The office of the Mayor of San Francisco said in a statement Thursday that the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are determining a location that "can most appropriately address the health of those passengers that may have COVID-19 and the safety of those passengers not impacted, as well as the surrounding community."
The cruise ship with about 3,500 people on board is off the coast of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a press conference Wednesday that the ship would remain offshore near San Francisco until coronavirus testing on some passengers can be completed.
Higgins Ott, who is 17, said she's not worried about herself. "But I’m worried because we made friends with some older folks on the cruise," she said. "I’m worried about them and the crew members."
Across the hall from Higgins Ott's state room, some guests were being tested. The medical team was wearing white masks over their mouths with a clear face mask cover. Their bodies were fully covered and they were wearing gloves.
"The test took place in the room," she said. "There’s about five medical people that helped with the testing."
A baby was being tested, too. She heard that that test would take longer to conduct than the others.
As of Wednesday, there were 11 passengers and 10 crew members who have reported symptoms of coronavirus on board. That count may change, Newsom noted.
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Princess Cruises said the ship's onboard medical team would administer the tests, which would be flown back out to a lab in Richmond, California. The group of fewer than 100 identified for testing includes passengers who sailed the previous voyage and remain on board and passengers and crew who have coronavirus symptoms.
Testing was expected to be completed fairly quickly, given that the turnaround time for a test is about four hours, according to Newsom.
Public health officials have said that guests will not be allowed to disembark until test results are received, Princess Cruises said in a release. All guests identified to be tested were previously asked to remain in their staterooms.
A 71-year-old man from California died from coronavirus after sailing on the Grand Princess on a cruise from San Francisco that visited Mexico from Feb. 11 through Feb. 21. Health officials in Placer County, where the man died, said he was "likely exposed" to the virus on board the Grand Princess.
Two other passengers from that voyage have been hospitalized with the virus in Northern California, officials said. One of the other former passengers in California from the ship's former voyage who tested positive for coronavirus is in "difficult condition," Newsom said Wednesday.
According to CruiseMapper, the Grand Princess had been scheduled to return to San Francisco on March 7. The ship skipped its call to Ensenada on Thursday.
Grand Princess' anticipated docking time is unclear. In a letter issued to passengers Wednesday and posted on the company's website, the cruise line said the ship was expected to arrive Thursday afternoon; that information was later changed to "exact date and time for arrival to be determined."
"For those guests who sailed with us on our previous voyage and may have been exposed, in an abundance of caution, the CDC requires you to remain in your stateroom until you have been contacted and cleared by our medical staff," the passengers were informed in the letter. "A member of our medical team will be calling you between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. this morning. You may order room service while you wait for the medical screening to be completed."
Cruise ships are a unique environment when it comes to health concerns, according to the CDC. In an article on their website, the CDC says that, "Outbreaks on ships can be sustained for multiple voyages by transmission among crew members who remain onboard or by persistent environmental contamination."
The man who died tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday at a California lab. According to Placer County officials, the man had minimal community exposure after returning from the cruise before entering the hospital. They said that other cruise passengers may have been exposed, too.
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Placer County Public Health is working with Sacramento County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find and reach out to other cruise passengers who are no longer on the ship.
"We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of this patient,” said Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson, in the release. “While we have expected more cases, this death is an unfortunate milestone in our efforts to fight this disease, and one that we never wanted to see."
Princess Cruises' chief medical officer, Dr. Grant Tarling, sent a letter Wednesday to the current passengers of Grand Princess, some of whom were on the shipFeb. 11 through Feb. 21.
A similar letter was sent to former passengers that had sailed on the Grand Princess, according to the cruise line.
The cruise line has shared travel and health data with the CDC.
Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess, the ship that was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, and experienced a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 700 passengers.
The cruise line has canceled Grand Princess' next sailing to Hawaii, which was scheduled to depart on March 7. Passengers will receive a full refund, including shore excursions purchased through the cruise line. Air change fees and other unexpected expenses will be considered on a case-by-case basis. All passengers will also be granted a cruise credit for future use equal to the cruise fair of the voyage.
Meanwhile, Princess Cruises' Sun Princess was met with riots when stopping in port at Réunion Island on Sunday, Princess Cruises confirmed to USA TODAY.
The reason? Concerns over coronavirus, which has infected more than 94,000 people and killed 3,214 globally, according to Johns Hopkins data. No coronavirus cases had been reported in Réunion as of Wednesday, nor on the ship.
Princess Cruises said Wednesday that there are no concerns of coronavirus on the ship.
"We can confirm that there are no cases of COVID-19 onboard Sun Princess. Sun Princess is heading back to Fremantle (Australia) as scheduled with arrival March 10th," Princess Cruises said in a statement shared with USA TODAY by spokesperson Alivia Owyoung Ender on Wednesday.
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Contributing: Associated Press