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21 on cruise ship off California test positive for virus

Last Updated Mar 6, 2020 at 6:36 pm EDT

The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco. Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered the cruise ship to hold off the California coast Thursday, March 5, to await testing of those aboard, after a passenger on an earlier voyage died and at least one other became infected. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File)

Twenty-one people aboard a mammoth cruise ship off the California coast tested positive for the new coronavirus, including 19 crew members, Vice-President Mike Pence announced Friday, amid evidence the vessel was the breeding ground for a deadly cluster of at least 10 cases during its previous voyage.

The ship has 237 Canadians on board and forbidden from leaving, according to the cruise line. It’s unclear if any of the people who test positive were Canadian.

Federal officials have been working with the state and “we have developed a plan to bring the ship to a non-commercial port,” Pence said. “All passengers and crew will be tested for the virus. Those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it.”

Princess Cruises said 45 of the more than 3,500 people on board were tested in the first round. A military helicopter crew lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-meter) Grand Princess by rope Thursday and later retrieved them for analysis as the vessel waited off San Francisco, under orders to keep its distance from shore.

Health officials trying to establish whether the virus is circulating on the Grand Princess undertook the testing after reporting that a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship, in February, died of the disease.

In the past few days, health authorities disclosed that at least nine other people who were on the same journey were also found to be infected. And some passengers on that trip stayed aboard for the current voyage.

“The ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.

Another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus, and 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.

The ship off California was returning to San Francisco after visiting Hawaii.

A Sacramento-area man who sailed aboard the Grand Princess last month during a visit to a series of Mexican ports later succumbed to the coronavirus, according to California authorities. Others who were on that voyage have also tested positive, with seven cases in Northern California and two in Canada, authorities said.