California public venues, schools close to stop virus spread

SAN FRANCISCO — A cruise ship hit by the new coronavirus and headed to the port of Oakland, California, will remain in international waters for at least another day as officials worked on plans to transport passengers to federal facilities around the country and local officials began ordering the closure of schools and public spaces to try and stop the spread of the virus.

The largest school district in Northern California has canceled classes for a week after it was discovered that a family in the district had been exposed to COVID-19. The Elk Grove School District, which is near Sacramento, has nearly 64,000 students.

Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Sunday that more closures are likely around the state as the virus spreads.

The Grand Princess ship, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries, is expected to arrive Monday.

Grand Princess Capt. John Smith, in a recording provided by passenger Laurie Miller of San Jose, told passengers Saturday night that “after docking, we will then begin a disembarkation process specified by federal authorities that will take several days.”

Ship passengers who need medical treatment or hospitalization will go to health care facilities in California, while state residents who don’t require acute medical care “will go to a federally run isolation facility within California for testing and isolation,” the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said in a statement Sunday.

“The crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, but importantly, the ship will only stay in Port of Oakland for the duration of disembarkment. This ship will depart Oakland as soon as possible and will remain elsewhere for the duration of the crew’s quarantine,” the statement said.

U.S. guests from outside California will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states.

Smith said the information he was given did not include what would happen to passengers from other countries. California officials did not provide those details.

Some Americans will be transferred to military bases in San Antonio, Texas, and Marietta, Georgia, officials said. It was not clear when the groups would arrive.

Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday that at least 21 people aboard the ship, including 19 crew members, have tested positive for the virus.

Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll from the virus is at 19, with all but three victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to more than 400, scattered across the U.S.

The Grand Princess had been forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel was the breeding ground for a cluster of nearly 20 cases that resulted in at least one death after a previous voyage.

Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Paradise, California, went on the cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary. The Smiths said they were a bit worried but felt safe in their room, which they had left just once since Thursday to video chat with their children.

Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays with their food in covered plates, delivered outside their door. They’ve occupied themselves by watching TV, reading and looking out the window.

“Thank God, we have a window!” Steven Smith said.

The ship was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was held off the California coast Wednesday so people with symptoms could be tested for the virus.

Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, said it’s believed a 71-year-old Northern California man who later died of the virus was probably sick when he boarded the ship for a Feb. 11 cruise to Mexico.

The passenger visited the medical center the day before disembarking with symptoms of respiratory illness, he said. Others in several states and Canada who were on that voyage also have tested positive.

The passenger likely infected his dining room server, who also tested positive for the virus, Tarling said, as did two people traveling with the man. Two passengers now on the ship who have the virus were not on the previous cruise, he said.

A cruise ship was being held off the coast of Florida on Sunday awaiting test results on whether two crew members have contracted the new coronavirus.

The Regal Princess was supposed to dock in Port Everglades on Sunday morning but was instead sailing up and down the coast, the Miami Herald reports. The crew members in question had transferred from the Grand Princess cruise ship. The Coast Guard delivered testing kits to the Regal Princess on Sunday morning and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no-sail order” for the ship.

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.

Hundreds of Americans aboard that ship were flown to military bases in California and other states for two-week quarantines. Some later were hospitalized with symptoms.

An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ship’s ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, make passengers and crew vulnerable to infectious diseases.

“They’re not designed as quarantine facilities, to put it mildly,” said Don Milton of the University of Maryland.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 3,400, the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.