Coronavirus Testing Begins Aboard Grand Princess

Grand Princess (file image)

Published Mar 5, 2020 1:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

After two former passengers tested positive for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus - including one individual who has since died - the cruise ship Grand Princess has begun to take on-board control measures to prevent any potential spread of the disease. No coronavirus cases have been confirmed yet on the vessel's current voyage, but preventive measures are being taken, including coronavirus testing and a quarantine for identified high-risk individuals. 

According to Princess Cruises, there are less than 100 guests and crew on board who have been identified for coronavirus testing. This group includes:

- guests who are currently under care for respiratory illness;
- guests and crew who have experienced flu-like symptoms;
- and the 62 guests who have been on board since the previous voyage, overlapping with the two known cases. 

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that at least 21 people on board - 10 crewmembers and 11 passengers - have developed symptoms. 

To facilitate testing, military helicopters delivered sampling kits to the ship on Thursday. The Grand Princess medical team will administer the tests, and the samples will be sent in batches by helicopter to a lab in Richmond, California. In the interim, the affected individuals have been asked to stay in their staterooms.

Passenger social media updates from the ship on Thursday afternoon suggested that all passengers have been asked to remain in their cabins and to keep six feet of distance from each other if they do have to go out. 

No passengers will be allowed to disembark in San Francisco until the testing has been completed.

As of Thursday afternoon, AIS data indicated that the Grand Princess had slowed to 11 knots and turned away from San Francisco, making a northwesterly course parallel to the California coastline. 

Search for former passengers under way

About 2,500 passengers were aboard the vessel during the previous voyage, and about half were California residents. Since they may have been exposed to COVID-19, California's county-level public health officials are now involved in an effort to contact them and evaluate their status. 

“I’m not naive about the scope of literally hundreds and hundreds of people, but we have the capacity to do this,” Gov. Newsom said Wednesday. “By this evening, we will have contacted every county health official that has someone who came off this cruise. They will have their contact information and begin a process to contact those individuals.”

California already has more than 50 confirmed cases of the disease in 12 counties, making it the most affected U.S. state. 

According to former passengers from the affected cruise, Princess Cruises has reached out by email in an attempt to inform them of their potential exposure. The cruise line says that it has shared essential travel and health details with the CDC so that the agency can work with local entities to follow up with the former passengers.