The Grand Princess under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Princess Cruises
  • The Grand Princess cruise ship arrived off the coast of San Francisco on Thursday. The CDC is investigating a "small cluster" of coronavirus cases associated with its previous voyage.
  • The first patient to die of the new coronavirus in California was on the Grand Princess from February 11 to 21.
  • The ship is from the same cruise line as the Diamond Princess, which was quarantine for more than two weeks in the port of Yokohama, Japan.
  • It is not yet clear whether Grand Princess passengers or crew will face a similar quarantine, but some people are showing symptoms.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom has so far not allowed the ship to dock in the port of San Francisco.
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A coronavirus patient who had recently traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship has died in California, the state confirmed. The ship is now sitting off the coast near San Francisco, waiting for test results from current passengers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a "small cluster" of cases connected to the ship, according to a statement that the company, Princess Cruises, sent to passengers on Wednesday. Three passengers from the ship's last voyage went home and later tested positive for the new coronavirus, including the person who died, the CDC said in an email to Business Insider.

The Grand Princess turned back toward San Francisco instead of docking in Ensenada, Mexico, as scheduled out of an "abundance of caution," the company said. But California Gov. Gavin Newsom did not allow it to dock. He also declared a state of emergency for California.

Some passengers currently on board have started to show symptoms, according to Gov. Newsom and Princess Cruises.

The Grand Princess is from the same line as the Diamond Princess, which hosted one of the largest outbreaks of the new coronavirus outside China. More than 700 people who were on board the Diamond Princess tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus. The ship sat in the port of Yokohama, Japan, for weeks as the local government placed everyone on board under quarantine.

"The CDC is continuing to actively collect information," the cruise line said on Wednesday. "We have shared essential travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate their standard notification to the State and County health authorities to follow up with individuals who may have been exposed to people who became ill."

It added: "We anticipate that further review of the situation will be necessary on arrival in San Francisco."

Some passengers are 'under care for respiratory illness'

The patient who died of the coronavirus in California was on the Grand Princess from February 11 to 21. At least one other confirmed coronavirus case in California - a person in Sonoma County - was on the cruise at the same time as the patient who died. The CDC did not immediately provide information about the third infected passenger.

Princess Cruises said that 62 passengers still on board were also on that trip.

The US Coast Guard planned to fly coronavirus test kits out to the ship via helicopter on Thursday, according to an update that Princess Cruises posted on Wednesday evening.

Coast Guard Lt. Nathan White beside an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Air Station Miami in Opa Lacka, Florida, November 15, 2018.
Christopher Woody/Business Insider
The ship's medical team will administer the tests, and helicopters will return them to a lab in Richmond, California, the update said.

Tweets from ABC7 reporter Kate Larsen suggested that the helicopters arrived on Thursday.

The cruise line added that fewer than 100 passengers and crew members had been identified for testing, and that they have been asked not to leave their cabins.

That includes guests who are "currently under care for respiratory illness," the company said, along with passengers and crew members showing symptoms, and all passengers who were on the previous voyage.

It is not yet clear whether other passengers - those not on the previous voyage - were also asked to stay in their rooms.

Officials will not allow anyone to leave the ship until the test results come back, Princess Cruises said.

Newsom said state authorities are following up with passengers who were on the previous voyage but left when that cruise ended.

Next steps for the Grand Princess are not yet clear

Experts have criticized the way Japan's government quarantined Diamond Princess passengers and crew on that ship. Some have said that keeping people on the ship may have helped the virus spread among them.

"I admit, our isolation policy was not perfect," Shigeru Omi, a health adviser to the Japanese government, said at a press conference on February 24. "No place is perfect except in a hospital."

It is not yet known what the CDC plans to do if more people on the Grand Princess test positive for COVID-19.

In an email to Business Insider, the CDC said "all precautions will be taken as the investigation is underway to determine possible risk of spread."

In its statement to its passengers, Princess Cruises said: "We are closely recording and monitoring all persons who have reported to the medical center with cold and flu symptoms during the voyage. As a precaution, we are also conducting additional enhanced environmental disinfection onboard in addition to our regular stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols."

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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