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California officials taking precautions as virus spreads

Olga R. Rodriguez
The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A cruise ship with at least 21 cases of the new coronavirus is headed to the port of Oakland, California, but will remain in international waters for at least another day as officials worked on plans to transport American passengers to military bases around the U.S. and repatriate international ones.

Local officials in California began ordering the closure of schools and public spaces to try to stop the spread of the virus.

The largest school district in Northern California canceled classes for a week for its nearly 64,000 students after it was discovered a family in the district was exposed to COVID-19.

Gov. Gavin Newsom warned Sunday that more closures are likely around the state as the virus spreads as he prepared for the Monday arrival of the Grand Princess carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries.

The port at Oakland was chosen because of its proximity to an airport and a military base, Newsom said. It could take up to three days to prepare the port site and get everyone off the ship, he said Sunday.

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 a military base north of San Francisco or another near San Diego.

Other U.S. residents will be transported to military bases in Texas and Georgia. All will be tested for the COVID-19 virus and will remain under a 14-day quarantine, federal officials said. It was not clear when the groups would arrive.

Crew staying aboard: The crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, Newsom said.

“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,” he said.

No passengers will be quarantined or released in Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaaf said Sunday.

The Department of State was working with the home countries of several hundred passengers to arrange for repatriation to their countries, officials said.

Canada was sending a plane to repatriate Canadians of the Grand Princess cruise ship, official said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement Sunday there are 237 Canadians on the cruise ship and that those not showing symptoms for the virus will be flown back to a military base in Trenton, Ontario, for a two-week quarantine.

More than 20 infected: 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 21, 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.

Likely sick before boarding: 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 Sunday awaiting test results on whether two crew members who transferred there from the Grand Princess 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 reported. The Coast Guard delivered testing kits to the Regal Princess 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.