“I know that this will be disappointing to hear, however, after lunch today we ask that you return to your staterooms,” he said. “Until we are advised further by the CDC, we will transition to having all future meals delivered by room service.”
At a hearing Thursday morning before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Ken Cuccinelli, a senior official of the Department Homeland Security, said test kits were being delivered to the ship by helicopter “literally as we’re speaking.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said during a news conference Wednesday night that he had asked that the Grand Princess, which left San Francisco on Feb. 21 for a voyage to Hawaii, avoid returning to the state until testing could be completed. He said 21 people — 11 passengers and 10 crew members — were symptomatic and would be prioritized for testing, along with those who sailed on the previous voyage to Mexico with those who later became sick.
The confinement update came via a YouTube channel called Hot Chicken, featuring two women who have been livestreaming portions of their vacation. They said the announcement had come from the captain.
The announcement also said all samples from passengers who needed to be tested should be collected by the end of Thursday, and results were expected early Friday morning.
Before telling passengers to stay in their rooms after lunch, the announcement also instructed passengers to practice “social distancing” by standing about six feet away from each other. At lunch, they were told to leave an empty seat between anyone else.
Overnight, the cruise line said that once samples are collected on board, they will be sent to a lab in Richmond, Calif., also by helicopter.
“Public health officials have advised that no guests will be permitted to disembark until all results have been received,” Princess Cruises said in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, all guests who have been identified for testing have been asked to remain in their staterooms.”
Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess, which spent much of February quarantined in Japan. More than 700 people who were on that ship were infected and seven have died, and experts have criticized the cruise line and the government’s handling of the process.
Cuccinelli said Thursday there is not enough capacity at health care facilities in the United States to accommodate bringing large numbers of passengers ashore for quarantine, leading lawmakers to question whether authorities would again seek to quarantine coronavirus cases aboard a ship held offshore.
“We determined, I thought, that it wasn’t a good idea if there was a positive result on a cruise ship to keep everybody on that cruise ship together,” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said during the hearing. “Now we’re hearing that there is a cruise ship off California” — a state with abundant medical facilities and military bases, she added — “and yet we don’t seem to have a protocol to get those folks off the ship, into quarantine in a way that would minimize the spread of infection.”
Cuccinelli said that if the Diamond Princess quarantine had been implemented more effectively, the virus would not have spread as widely as it did on board. “That was a bad quarantine. That was not a successful quarantine situation,” he said. He insisted authorities’ actions in San Francisco will be far more effective than the response given to the “viral disaster” that was the Diamond Princess off Japan.
The cruise line said Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was investigating a “small cluster” of cases of the virus among people in Northern California who took a cruise on the Grand Princess from San Francisco to Mexico between Feb. 11 and 21. It did not say how many people were included in that cluster, and the CDC did not respond to questions.
Officials there said that person’s “exposure likely occurred during international travel on a Princess cruise ship that departed from San Francisco to Mexico — the same Feb. 11-21 cruise associated with a confirmed Sonoma County case announced previously.” The cruise line confirmed the person who died was a 71-year-old man.
Newsom said state officials were working with the CDC and health-care partners statewide to contact people who were on the manifest for the Mexico sailing, and that federal authorities were working to get in touch with those from outside the state.
Princess Cruises said Wednesday it was canceling its Thursday stop in Ensenada, Mexico, to return to the United States. Initially the line said the plan was to return to San Francisco on Thursday, but Newsom said it would have arrived Wednesday night had he not intervened. The return date is now up in the air.
“The CDC is continuing to actively collect information and is collaborating with us to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken during the current Hawaii cruise and upon the ship’s return to San Francisco,” the cruise line said in a statement. “We have shared essential travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their standard notification to the state and county health authorities in order to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to the people who became ill.”
Sixty-two people on the Hawaii cruise also sailed to Mexico with the passengers who later tested positive, according to the operator. Earlier Wednesday, the cruise line told those passengers and some crew to stay in their rooms until screened by medical staff on the ship.
“You may order room service while you wait for the medical screening to be completed, and we apologize for any inconvenience,” the line told passengers in an advisory that it also posted online.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health said the U.S. Coast Guard and the CDC are working with the cruise line and passengers but that local authorities were also making “all the necessary arrangements to receive the Grand Princess.”
Late Wednesday, Newsom said state officials would work closely with the CDC and Coast Guard on establishing protocols for the ship’s return.
“We’ll provide as much time as needed to secure the safety of everybody on board, secure their health, and then more broadly the community,” he said.
He added during the nearly hour-long news conference that it was not clear where the ship would eventually end up.
“The question is where do they arrive,” Newsom said. “There may be new protocols and procedures that send the ship to another location.”
The San Francisco mayor’s office said Thursday that once testing is done, federal and state officials will make the call about where the ship should dock.
“The CDC and the state are fully engaged in 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,” a statement from Mayor London Breed’s office said.
Princess Cruises said Thursday morning it is canceling the next sailing for the Grand Princess, a Hawaii cruise that was supposed to leave from San Francisco on March 7. All passengers will get a full refund of the fare they paid plus any other prepaid expenses and airfare they booked through the cruise line.
Michael Brice-Saddler, Amy Goldstein and Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.