A cruise ship with a cluster of coronavirus cases that forced it to idle off the California coast for days arrived Monday at a port in the San Francisco Bay Area as state and US officials prepared to start bringing passengers to military bases for quarantine or get them back to their home countries.
The Grand Princess pulled into the Port of Oakland with more than 3,500 people aboard - 21 of them infected with the new virus. Some people waved from their balconies or left their cabins to go onto the decks.
It’s unclear how many travelers would get off the ship Monday - the captain told passengers that not everyone would.
US passengers will be flown or bused from the port - chosen because of its proximity to an airport and a military base - to bases in California, Texas and Georgia for testing and a 14-day quarantine. The ship is carrying people from 54 countries, and foreigners will be whisked home.
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About 1,100 crew members, 19 of whom have tested positive for COVID-19, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
The ship had been held off the coast since Wednesday amid evidence it was the breeding ground for infections tied to a previous voyage.
Passengers from the previous voyage have tested positive in California and other states. Six Canadians who were on the Grand Princess from Feb. 11 to 21 were confirmed to have the virus.
As it pulled closer to the Bay Area, Grand Princess passenger Karen Schwartz Dever said “everyone was hollering and clapping as we entered the harbor.”
Another passenger, Laurie Miller of San Jose, said they were told that anyone who was getting off Monday had already received a written notice and luggage tags.
“Not us!” she said in a message. “This is an absolute circus.”
The virus has infected 600 people in the US, and at least 22 have died, most in Washington state. Cases have topped 111,000 worldwide and over 3,800 people have died, the bulk of them in China. Italy has become the latest country to lock down a region in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading.
On Wall Street, a combination of coronavirus fears and plunging oil prices sent stocks plummeting Monday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious diseases chief, said widespread closure of a city or region is “possible.”
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said communities will need to start thinking about canceling large gatherings, closing schools and letting more employees work from home, as many companies have done in the Seattle area amid an outbreak at a care home that has killed 17.
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Several universities have begun online-only courses, including the University of Washington, Stanford University and Columbia University. The largest school district in Northern California, with 64,000 students, canceled classes for a week when it was discovered a family in the district was exposed to COVID-19.
The California governor and Oakland mayor sought to reassure people that none of the cruise ship passengers would be exposed to the public before completing the quarantine. Officials also were trying to decide where the ship and its crew would go next.
“That ship will turn around - and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship - but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay,” Gov. Newsom said.
Meanwhile, another cruise ship, the Regal Princess, pulled into a Florida port late Sunday after being held off the state’s coast for hours while awaiting coronavirus test results for two crew members, who did not have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
The State Department warned against travel on cruise ships because of “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”
Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.