21 People Test Positive for Coronavirus Aboard Grand Princess

Members of the California National Guard deliver coronavirus test kits to the empty top deck of Grand Princess, March 5 (California National Guard 129th Rescue Wing)

By The Maritime Executive 03-06-2020 05:19:00

On Friday, the Trump administration confirmed that 21 passengers aboard the cruise ship Grand Princess have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

"46 persons were swabbed. Among those, 21 of those on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus . . . 19 were crew members and two [were] passengers," said Vice President Mike Pence at a White House briefing. "We are instituting the strongest testing protocols to ensure that not only those on board receive the treatment that they need, but that the American people can be confident that there will be no erosion in our preventative measures and efforts to keep the coronavirus from spreading throughout our country."

The vessel is currently in a holding pattern off the coast of San Francisco. Health officials now plan to divert Grand Princess to a "non-commercial port" where she will berth this weekend. All of her passengers and crew will be tested while she is alongside the dock. 

At a press conference Friday at CDC headquarters, President Donald Trump told reporters that from his own perspective, he would prefer to see infected persons stay on board the vessel because they would add to the nation's coronavirus numbers if they disembarked. Ultimately he will defer to his emergency management team, he said. 

"I have great experts, including my vice president . . . They would like to have the people come off, I would rather have the people stay, but I'd go with them, I told them to make the final decision," Trump said. "I would rather because I like the numbers being where they are. I don't need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn't our fault."

Infectious disease experts have criticized an earlier on-board quarantine attempt conducted by the Japanese government during the outbreak aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess. The Diamond Princess quarantine kept infected passengers away from the Japanese public, but an early study indicates that it may have accelerated the spread of the disease among passengers and crew (compared to evacuation). About 700 people were ultimately infected aboard Diamond Princess, and six of them have since died from the disease. 

Grand Princess has already begun to take precautionary measures similar to those deployed aboard Diamond Princess. The vessel has "quickly transitioned" its food service to provide room service; passengers have been asked to remain in their rooms; more TV and movie options have been added to in-room programming; free internet service has been provided to all; and the ship's internet bandwidth has been increased.

In addition to addressing the current situation on board, officials are attempting to find and evaluate passengers from the vessel's previous cruise. Two individuals from that voyage tested positive for coronavirus, including one who has since died. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that six more people who were on the same previous voyage have also tested positive, including four individuals in California and two in Canada. 

Passengers report onboard experiences

Advances in satcom connectivity have changed the way that ships can communicate with the outside world while at sea, and with the decision to offer ship-wide free internet aboard Grand Princess, passenger perspectives are readily available on social media. Two passengers - sisters Leah and Laura - have been live-streaming their experience from their stateroom on YouTube. 

"Since we saw you yesterday, we have been quarantined. You may have picked that up from the news or some of our comments . . . They have now distributed menus for us, kind of like when you go to the hospital, and you get a menu for the next meal," said Laura. 

Some passengers have reported that due to poor weather conditions, the weather decks have been off-limits and all personnel have been indoors. "The decks have been closed the whole time per dangerous storm conditions. Other than staying in our cabins the entire time, we have basically been elbow to elbow with the entire population of this ship," wrote passenger Laura Dunn on Thursday.