Coronavirus: Princess cruise ship kept offshore now allowed to dock in Oakland

Grand Princess off the shore of San Francisco. March 7, 2020

The Grand Princess cruise carying about 3,500 passengers and crew members kept off the San Francisco shores will now be allowed to dock Oakland, according to the cruise line.

Princess Cruises said the ship will dock at the Port of Oakland some time on Monday, citing the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The time on Monday is yet to determined. The company had first tweeted the ship would dock on Sunday, but then changed its plans late Saturday night. 

Princess Cruises also tweeted that the passengers who require acute medical treatment will be taken to hospitals in California. Other passengers will get off the ship after that. 

Passengers who live in California will go to a federally operated facility within the state, like Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, for testing and isolation, as per the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

Non-Californians will be taken by the federal government to facilities in other states, the cruise line tweeted. 

The crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, the company said.

Capt. John Smith told passengers in a recorded message that the information he was given did not include any details about what would happen to passengers from other countries.

“We are working to obtain more details overnight. ... I’m sorry I can’t provide you more details right now,” he said.

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A total of 21 people tested positive for the coronavirus on this particular ship, Vice President Mike Pence announced on Friday. One passenger who is critically ill, but not infected with coronavirus, was taken off the ship via U.S. Coast Guard early Saturday morning.

Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid also told the Mercury News that the federal government is setting up a command center at the Marriott Convention Center and flying in extra U.S. Marshals to help out and take people to their final destinations. 

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.

On Saturday, the coronavirus outbreak in California reached to more 100 cases, with six new patients diagnosed in San Francisco and eight in Santa Clara County. More than 60 people in the Bay Area have tested positive for the coronavirus, including a faculty member at Stanford and an employee of the FBI.

The ship supposed to have docked at the Port of San Francisco on Saturday but has been held in international waters since Wednesday night after a 71-year-old Placer County man on a previous trip tested positive for coronavirus and died.

He was the first coronavirus-related death in California. 

And for the first time on Saturday, cruise officials explained in more detail how the virus spread.

Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, said the 71-year-old man was probably sick when he boarded the ship for a Feb. 11 cruise to Mexico.

The elderly man 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 man also 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.

Some passengers who had been on the Mexico trip stayed aboard for the current voyage — increasing crew members’ exposure to the virus.

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.

The Associated Press contributed this report. 

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.

An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ship’s ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, make passengers and crew vulnerable to infectious diseases.