The Grand Princess cruise ship is in limbo off the California coast after a former passenger became the state's first person to die from COVID-19. Health workers will now test current passengers to determine whether they might also have the respiratory virus.
"We are going to be flying testing kits to the cruise ship and we are going to be sending those quickly back to the state," Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference late Wednesday. "We'll be able to test very quickly within just a few hours."
Officials believe the passenger, who was elderly, was exposed to the novel coronavirus during a trip from San Francisco to Mexico in the middle of February.
The passenger was on the ship from Feb. 11-21. They had underlying health conditions and spent nearly a week at home before being hospitalized in Placer County, health officials say. The passenger was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Feb. 27.
After completing its Mexico trip, the Grand Princess left California for a cruise to Hawaii. It's now returning from that voyage — and Princess Cruises has canceled the ship's scheduled call to Ensenada to bring it off the coast near San Francisco Thursday.
The Grand Princess is carrying around 2,500 passengers and normally has some 1,150 crew members. But the cruise line says only a fraction of that number will be tested, with the remainder of the people on board told to monitor themselves for any possible symptoms of COVID-19.
"There are fewer than 100 guests and crew identified for testing," Princess Cruises says. The number includes passengers who were on the vessel for both the Mexico and Hawaii cruises, as well as people with influenza-like symptoms and "guests currently under care for respiratory illness," the company says.
Newsom declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, to help his state cope with its first COVID-19 death and more than 50 confirmed cases overall.
To carry out the tests of people aboard the Grand Princess, the U.S. Coast Guard will use a helicopter to deliver kits to acquire samples Thursday morning. The onboard medical team will then collect samples, which will be flown back to shore to be analyzed at a lab in Richmond, Calif.
Princess Cruises says it is cancelling the ship's planned Hawaii cruise, which was to depart on Saturday.
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