Luis M. Alvarez /AP
Updated at 9:46 a.m. ET
The Grand Princess cruise ship is in limbo off the California coast after a former passenger became the state’s first known person to die from COVID-19. Health workers say they will now test some 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.”
Eleven passengers and 10 crew members were showing symptoms of COVID-19, the governor said. He added that the number “may significantly understate” the presence of the coronavirus on the cruise ship.
Newsom declared a state of emergency in California on Wednesday to help his state cope with its first COVID-19 death and more than 50 confirmed cases overall.
Officials believe the passenger, who was an elderly man, was exposed to the novel coronavirus during a trip from San Francisco to Mexico in the middle of February. Health officials are now tracking down thousands of people who were on the same trip and may have been exposed to the virus.
The man was on the ship from Feb. 11-21. He had underlying health conditions and spent nearly a week at home before being hospitalized in Placer County, health officials say. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Feb. 27.
In addition to that passenger, another California resident who was on the same trip has also been found to be infected, Newsom said. That person is currently hospitalized in Sonoma County, as member station KQED reports.
After completing its Mexico trip, the Grand Princess left California for a cruise to Hawaii. It’s now returning from that voyage — and operator Princess Cruises has canceled the ship’s scheduled call to Ensenada, Mexico, to bring it off the coast near San Francisco on Thursday.
“We’ve requested the arrival to be delayed,” Newsom said, to provide time for tests “because we have a number of passengers and crew members that have developed symptoms on this cruise ship.”
The Grand Princess is currently more than 100 nautical miles from the coast as it heads toward San Francisco, according to the maritime tracking site Vessel Finder.
It’s the second Princess Cruises ship to be identified with a potential cluster of coronavirus cases. The Diamond Princess was held in quarantine at the port in Yokohama, Japan, for weeks last month.
The Grand Princess is carrying around 2,500 passengers and normally has some 1,150 crew members. The cruise line says only a small 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.”
To carry out the tests of people aboard the Grand Princess, the U.S. Coast Guard planned to use a helicopter to deliver kits and 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.
About half of the people who were on the cruise to Mexico are California residents, Newsom said. Authorities are working to contact them and urge them to monitor themselves for potential COVID-19 symptoms.
California health agencies are currently monitoring at least 9,400 people in 49 counties who were potentially exposed to the coronavirus through air travel, Newsom said.
Princess Cruises says it is canceling the Grand Princess’ planned Hawaii cruise, which was to depart on Saturday.