21 COVID-19 cases found on cruise ship as eight US states report new patients

Twenty-one people on board a cruise ship stranded off the coast of San Francisco have tested positive for the new coronavirus (COVID-19), while health officials were seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked on Feb. 21.
March 07, 2020 | 14:29
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21 covid 19 cases found on cruise ship as eight us states report new patients
The Grand Princess cruise ship circles off the coast of California.

United States Vice President Mike Pence told reporters at the White House on Friday that 46 people suspected of being infected had been tested. He said two passengers and 19 crew were confirmed to have the virus.

Pence, who has been tasked by President Donald Trump to coordinate the US government's response to the outbreak, said the Grand Princess, carrying 3,533 people, will be brought to a non-commercial port where everyone on board will be tested.

He said he anticipates about 1,100 crew members will be quarantined on the ship. He said he will consult with the Defense Department about facilities for quarantining the passengers.

The Grand Princess has been stranded off the coast of San Francisco since Wednesday - when it was supposed to dock - after it emerged that two people who had been on the ship during its previous voyage had contracted the virus. One of them later died.

Pence said he believes the numbers of those infected was high among the crew, as they had likely been exposed during two previous outings. He added that by the end of next week, he expects four million test kits to be shipped to states impacted by the virus.

US President Donald Trump said he would rather have passengers remain on board the vessel, but that he would let others decide if they can disembark.

"I'd rather have them stay on, personally, but I fully understand if they want to take them off," Trump told reporters after touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Allowing passengers onto US soil who might be infected would push up the number of coronavirus cases in the country, he said.

"I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault," Trump said.

Keeping passengers quarantined aboard a coronavirus-hit ship proved to be a disastrous strategy in Japan, leading to one of the world's biggest outbreaks.

USD 8.3 billion bill

Trump on Friday signed a bill allocating USD 8.3 billion to stop the virus from spreading. The bill breezed through the Senate with a passing vote of 96-1 on Thursday.

More than USD 3 billion of the approved funds will be devoted to research and development of COVID-19 vaccines, test kits and treatments. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the illness that began in China and has infected more than 95,000 people in about 80 countries and territories.

An Air National Guard helicopter flew testing kits to the cruise liner after at least 35 people developed flu-like symptoms aboard the ship. Medical staff took samples from 46 passengers and crew to determine if they have contracted the respiratory virus.

The samples were carried back to a state laboratory in the Bay area. Pence said 21 of the tests came back positive, 24 were negative and one was inconclusive.

In the meantime, passengers aboard the ship said they had been largely confined to their staterooms since Thursday afternoon, as the cruise line requested. One passenger who spoke on Thursday with Reuters, Kathy Reid, 67, a retiree from Granbury, Texas, said she and others felt like they were in "limbo".

California Governor Gavin Newsom has insisted that the ship, which had been due to return from Hawaii to its home port in San Francisco on Wednesday, remain at sea until everyone aboard who is sick or at risk of exposure to coronavirus can be tested.

Health officials had said on Thursday they planned to initially test 35 passengers and crew who have reported symptoms consistent with coronavirus, as well as dozens of "holdover" passengers from an earlier voyage to Mexico.

State and local officials acted to halt the cruise liner after learning people aboard had fallen ill and two passengers who traveled on the same vessel last month to Mexico later tested positive for COVID-19.

One, an elderly man from Placer County near Sacramento with underlying health conditions, died this week, marking the first documented coronavirus fatality in California. The other, from the Bay area, was described by Newsom as gravely sick.

Health officials say both individuals likely contracted the virus aboard the ship.

A third passenger from the Mexico trip, a Canadian woman from the province of Alberta, has since been reported by health officials there to have tested positive.

Health officials were also seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked in San Francisco on Feb. 21 after the earlier cruise to Mexico.

Eight states report first cases

On Friday, eight states - Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Carolina and Hawaii - reported their first cases, meaning more than half of the 50 US states now have the virus.

Word of the new cases capped a week during which the virus began to disrupt daily life for many Americans.

In Seattle, the epicenter of the nation's outbreak, there were school closures and orders to work from home. In areas less affected by the outbreak, music festivals, conferences and sports events were canceled or curtailed as a precaution.

Washington's King County has been the hardest hit area in the United States with at least a dozen of the nation's 15 coronavirus deaths, several of whom were people living at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.

In Florida, officials on Friday announced two deaths and canceled two Miami music festivals - Ultra and Calle Ocho - because of potential risk that coronavirus could spread at events with large crowds.

Apple Inc on Friday asked staff at its Silicon Valley headquarters to work from home if possible as a "precaution." Gap Inc closed its New York headquarters because one employee had tested positive.

In Maryland, the focus was on a patient with coronavirus who attended a public event last Saturday at a retirement community in the Washington suburb of Rockville and came into contact with as many as 100 people, Governor Larry Hogan said.

Cases in New York jumped to 44 from 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, adding that some 4,000 people in the state were under precautionary quarantine and 44 under mandatory quarantine./.

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