First Californian to die from coronavirus likely caught it on cruise ship, health officials say

2020-03-04 16:41:14

The first Californian to die of coronavirus was “likely exposed” to the illness while traveling on a Princess Cruise ship last month, officials said Wednesday.

The 71-year-old man died in Placer County, northeast of Sacramento, according to a news release from county officials. He’d been placed in isolation at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Roseville, they said.

The man, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday at a California lab, had been on board a Feb. 11 to 21 cruise that departed from San Francisco and visited Mexico. 

According to Placer County officials, the man had minimal community exposure after returning from the cruise before entering the hospital. They said that other cruise passengers may have been exposed, too. 

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Placer County Public Health is working with Sacramento County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find and reach out to other cruise passengers.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of this patient,” said Placer County Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson, in the release. “While we have expected more cases, this death is an unfortunate milestone in our efforts to fight this disease, and one that we never wanted to sec.”

Princess Cruises’ chief medical officer, Dr. Grant Tarling, sent a letter Wednesday to the current passengers of Grand Princess, some of whom were on the shipFeb. 11 through Feb. 21. 

In the letter, Tarling informed passengers that the CDC is investigating a small cluster of cases in northern California in connection to the Grand Princess’ recent voyage. 

Guests that stayed on Grand Princess for a second sailing have been asked to quarantine in their staterooms until they are cleared. 

“For those guests who sailed with us on our previous voyage and may have been exposed, in an abundance of caution, the CDC requires you to remain in your stateroom until you have been contacted and cleared by our medical staff,” the letter, posted to Princess Cruises’ website, reads.

According to CruiseMapper, the Grand Princess had been scheduled to return to San Francisco on March 7. However, in anticipation of the need for further review of the situation, the ship will skip its call to Ensenada on Thursday and instead sail directly to San Francisco to arrive Thursday.

A similar letter was distributed to former passengers that had sailed on the Grand Princess, according to the cruise line.

“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,” Princess Cruises said in a release provided by spokeswoman Alivia Owyoung Ender to USA TODAY. 

The cruise line has shared travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their notification to State and County health authorities to inform individuals who may have been exposed on the previous cruise. 

Princess Cruises also owns the Diamond Princess, the ship that was quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, and experienced a coronavirus outbreak that infected more than 700 passengers

Princess cruise ship met with violent protest in Réunion over lack of coronavirus testing

Princess Cruises’ Sun Princess was met with riots when stopping in port at Réunion Island on Sunday, Princess Cruises confirmed to USA TODAY. 

The reason? Concerns over coronavirus, which has infected more than 94,000 people and killed 3,214 globally, according to Johns Hopkins data. No coronavirus cases had been reported in Réunion as of Wednesday, nor on the ship.

When the ship docked at the French territory, located off the southeastern coast of Africa, near Madagascar, passengers were met by a crowd of about 30 people, according to Agence France-Presse. They insisted the passengers undergo health inspections and tried to prevent them from leaving the port area.

The violence began when police got involved, according to AFP, and protesters threw pebbles and bottles at them. Local authorities used tear gas on the protesters in response. 

“Of course we are not against the arrival of tourist – they are necessary for the development of our economy. We just want to be sure that there is no risk of the coronavirus propagating,” Yannis Latchimy, a protester, told AFP. “We don’t know if these people are sick – they were not tested. It is very dangerous.”

French police officers arrest a demonstrator in Le Port on March 1, 2020, as people protest the arrival of the passengers of the Sun Princess cruise ship on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.
French police officers arrest a demonstrator in Le Port on March 1, 2020, as people protest the arrival of the passengers of the Sun Princess cruise ship on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.

While disembarking, passengers were offered face masks and pamphlets on coronavirus prevention, but their temperatures were not taken.

Some passengers leaving the port on shuttle buses were also met by rocks.

“Some passengers were very distressed, and others absolutely steaming, fuming when they got back,” Rod Pascoe, a passenger from New Zealand traveling with his wife on the Sun Princess, told the New Zealand Herald.

The ship, carrying around 2,000 passengers, had been turned away from a port in Madagascar on Feb. 13, since 14 days had not yet passed since its visit to Thailand, where a coronavirus outbreak had begun. It made multiple stops in South Africa after it was denied entry by Thailand, according to the cruise tracking site, CruiseMapper.

Princess Cruises said Wednesday that there are no concerns of coronavirus on the ship.

“We can confirm that there are no cases of COVID-19 onboard Sun Princess. Sun Princess is heading back to Fremantle (Australia) as scheduled with arrival March 10th,” Princess Cruises said in a statement shared with USA TODAY by spokesperson Alivia  Owyoung Ender on Wednesday.

Sun Princess was also denied entry to the neighboring island of Mauritius on Monday, Owyoung Ender said.

It wasn’t the first time Mauritian authorities had taken such action: in late February, Alitalia flew 40 passengers from areas of northern Italy that had been hit hard by coronavirus back to Rome after officials told the carrier that those people would either have to leave or enter quarantine on the island.

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Former MSC Opera cruise passenger tests positive for coronavirus

Passengers on MSC Cruises’ MSC Opera were recalled from their shore excursion in Athens after a former passenger tested positive after disembarking in Genoa, Italy. 

Health authorities in Austria informed MSC Cruises that an Austrian passenger who had been on the MSC Opera on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise from Feb. 17 through Feb. 28 tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday. The passenger traveled back to Austria via northern Italy on Feb. 28 after disembarking from the cruise in Genoa, Italy. 

Mike Knotts, originally from San Antonio, but traveling from his home in Frankfurt, Germany, is on board the MSC Opera. He, along with everyone else currently on the ship, received a letter from MSC Opera’s captain regarding the news after their excursion was cut short. 

“I have just learned – and I wanted you to know straightaway – that we have been contacted by the Austrian Health Authorities who have informed us that a previous passenger who sailed with us last week on MSC Opera, has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” a copy of the letter obtained by USA TODAY reads. “The male passenger, of Austrian nationality, disembarked the MSC Opera in Genoa, Italy on Friday morning 28 February, and is currently back in Austria. To be clear: this person is not on board.”

According to CruiseMapper, the ship set sail from Rome on Feb. 27 and its first port stop was in Genoa, where the infected passenger disembarked the following day after spending 11 days on board. Because MSC Opera has several embarkation ports, passengers can have different start dates and locations.

“A small number of passengers who were on board his cruise are also on board this week’s cruise,” spokesperson Alyssa Goldfarb told USA TODAY in an email. 

When the ship arrived in Piraeus, Greece, MSC informed the Greek health authorities about the case and asked for guidance. They requested the passengers remain on board while they waited for instruction. 

“We shared with the local health authorities the ship’s full medical records as well as the medical and travel history records of the former Austrian passenger,” MSC Cruises said in a statement provided by Goldfarb to USA TODAY.

The ship was given permission to continue on its journey to its next port in Corfu, Greece.

“I have not seen anything that people are upset or worried either,” Knotts told USA TODAY. “All is normal so far.”

No passengers or crew members have exhibited symptoms, according to the cruise line. 

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Carnival implements itinerary changes to avoid ships being turned away

Carnival Cruise Line is implementing itinerary changes for two of its ships to avoid the possibility of being turned away from ports.

The changes made are to the itineraries of Carnival Horizon and Carnival Freedom, scheduled to call in Grand Cayman and Jamaica this week.

“A number of Caribbean destinations continue to work through their policies with regards to cruise ship visits,” said Vance Gulliksen, spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Line, in an emailed statement to USA TODAY. “And while we are following all U.S. CDC and World Health Organization screening protocols and guidelines, we want to avoid any possibility of a visit to a destination where there is uncertainty or we risk being turned away.”

There are no health-related situations on board either ship, but Carnival wants to avoid any risk of disruption. 

“We understand some guests will be disappointed and trust they will understand that this decision is being made to protect their vacation and maximize their experience with us,” Gulliksen said.

The ships will still make three stops, just at different ports, including: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; and Nassau, Bahamas.

“Our CEO Arnold Donald had met with leaders from the Caribbean on Sunday to let them know we needed more certainty, and based on the absence of certainty, we implemented our decision.

Your questions answered: Travel, cruises and coronavirus

Ship stopped in Norway to test for virus; two passengers negative

Two AIDAaura passengers have tested negative for coronavirus after concerns stopped the German ship in Norway, the cruise line said in a statement provided by Hansjörg Kunze, vice president of communication and sustainability for Costa Cruises, which operates AIDA Cruises.

The testing was prompted by a passenger who was informed people in his work environment had tested positive for coronavirus.

The cruise line decided it was best to have that passenger and his companion tested for COVID-19 by local Norwegian authorities. On Tuesday afternoon they received their test results, which were negative, and the AIDAaura continued on its voyage.

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MS Westerdam to dock in Alaska on March 22

Holland America’s MS Westerdam, the cruise ship that was turned away from multiple ports in Asia because of coronavirus fears, is being repositioned in Alaska.

The Westerdam is scheduled to dock in Juneau at the end of March, Erik Elvejord, Holland America Line Spokesperson, confirmed to USA TODAY in an email. The Alaskan capital does not have any reported cases of the virus. 

By the time MS Westerdam arrives in Juneau, the ship will have been empty of guests for over a month, the cruise line said.

One passenger from the Westerdam tested positive for the virus after disembarking but has since been cleared. By Feb. 19, all passengers had left the ship and the crew had also tested negative.

Holland America Line canceled its sailings in Asia last month, citing concern over ports turning away its cruise ships.

The Westerdam will stay in Juneau for less than three weeks before beginning its summer cruising season to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The ship will be inactive during those weeks rather than try to sell last-minute cruises after cancelling its Asia sailings.

“Although there never was a suspected cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports and the one reported post-cruise case was later announced as negative upon re-testing, the ship will undergo a thorough cleaning process while transiting the Pacific out of an abundance of caution,” the cruise line said in the statement. “We thank the community of Juneau in advance for welcoming our hard-working crew.”

Restrictions on cruises expanded as coronavirus rages on

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s major trade organization, has issued industry-wide restrictions which it has continued to update, for all member cruise lines. CLIA members make up about 90% of ocean-going cruises.

On Wednesday, all members agreed to adopt additional screening measures to combat COVID-19. The biggest change is that the new guidelines now include countries impacted after the trade group published its original guidelines on Feb. 7. In addition to China, Hong Kong and Macao, the list now includes South Korea, Iran and areas of Italy. They also mandate screenings for anyone who’s been to an affected region within the past 14 days, including airports.

CLIA member ships will: 

  • “Deny boarding to all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in South Korea, Iran, China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and any municipality in Italy subject to lockdown (quarantine) measures by the Italian Government, as designated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, within 14 days prior to embarkation.

  • Conduct illness screening for all persons who have traveled from, visited or transited via airports in any destinations listed on the U.S. CDC “Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel” page within 14 days before embarkation. Illness screening includes symptom history checks for fever, cough and difficulty breathing in the 14 days before embarkation and taking of temperature.

  • Deny boarding to all persons who, within 14 days prior to embarkation, have had contact with, or helped care for, anyone suspected or diagnosed as having COVID-19, or who are currently subject to health monitoring for possible exposure to COVID-19.

  • Conduct pre-boarding screening necessary to effectuate these prevention measures. Enhanced screening and initial medical support are to be provided, as needed, to any persons exhibiting symptoms of suspected COVID-19.”

Cruise lines adapt travel restrictions as coronavirus spreads:  See the latest rules, waiver

Contributing: The Associated Press, Cruise Critic

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Californian who died likely got it on Princess Cruise

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