Aboard Cruise Ship Off California Coast, 21 Test Positive for Coronavirus

(CN) – Twenty-one people aboard a cruise ship off the coast of California have tested positive for coronavirus, an explosion of the virus on the West Coast.

Vice President Mike Pence – who heads the White House task force on the novel coronavirus – made the announcement late Friday and said the U.S. Coast Guard had airdropped 46 test kits to the Grand Princess cruise ship. There are about 3,500 people on board.

An illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (CDC image)

Those who tested positive for COVID-19 included 19 crewmembers and two passengers. Another 24 tests came back negative and one was inconclusive, Pence said.

The ship will be taken to a noncommercial port in the next few days where federal officials expect to test all aboard.

“We’re taking all measures necessary to see to the health of the Americans on the Grand Princess and just as importantly to protect the health of the American public and prevent the spread of the disease,” Pence said at the White House briefing.

He added the general risk to the greater public “remains low” but cautioned that older people with underlying health conditions should be cautious when traveling.

Across the U.S., there are 307 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections in 29 states, according to federal officials. Pence said that in the last week, federal agencies distributed nearly 1 million tests while 4 million will be shipped in the next seven days.

Two of the largest commercial testing companies, LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics, will make tests available in the next few days to meet future demand.

“We trust with in a manner of weeks this coronavirus test will be broadly available and available to any American that is symptomatic and has concern about having contracted the coronavirus,” said Pence.

The Grand Princess was held off the coast of California after two passengers from a prior voyage became infected. One of the passengers, a Northern California resident, died from the virus, which attacks the upper respiratory system.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday that “the ship will not come on shore until we appropriately assess the passengers.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said COVID-19 is now confirmed in 19 states since testing began on Jan. 21, with the exception of testing results for persons repatriated to the United States from Wuhan, China and Japan.

Meanwhile in Washington state – which has seen the most deaths from the virus nationally – the University of Washington has canceled all campus classes and advised instructors to teach online until the end of winter quarter on March 20 in response to the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area.

“In addition to providing maximum flexibility for our university community to take health precautions and finish classes this quarter, this transition provides our facilities crews additional time to deep-clean classrooms, auditoriums, libraries, restrooms and other public spaces, as is their standard practice,” university president Ana Mari Cauce wrote in an email to faculty and staff Friday.

A number of other area events have been canceled in recent days in hopes of containing the spread of COVID-19, including Emerald City Comic Con, a comic book and entertainment convention that annually draws around 100,000 to Seattle.

“After many hours of conversation internally & consultation with local government officials and the tourism bureau, we have decided to move next week’s Emerald City Comic Con to Summer 2020 with date & detail announcement forthcoming,” the event’s organizers said in a tweet.

Already the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak in the United States, King County officials announced three more deaths Friday, bringing the death toll to 14 and confirmed positive cases to 79.

“As more testing has become available, we are getting increased numbers of reports from laboratories and other facilities,” King County Public Health said in a statement.

All civil and criminal matters scheduled for in-court appearances in the Western District of Washington are continued pending further notice, according to a statement by the court Friday.

Americans should avoid traveling to Seattle because of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNBC Friday.

“That would be a place you would avoid for now,” Kudrow said.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan called Kudlow’s remarks “irresponsible.”

“The city of Seattle, King County, Washington state and public health officials are taking thoughtful and precautionary steps to stop the spread of the virus. We rely on our federal partners for the steadfast support every American deserves. This administration is name-calling and making inaccurate off-the-cuff comments – it’s simply irresponsible and has serious consequences for our residents and businesses,” Durkan said.

“Our response should embrace science. Actions like this have the potential to devastate our local economy, which relies in part on our tourism and hospitality industry,” she continued. “Instead of public health and economic support, irresponsible comments hurt our local economy, cause our businesses to shutter, and jobs to be lost. So many of these businesses are family-owned and are already skating on a thin profit margin. My office immediately called the administration, urging all parts of this administration to speak with one voice on this emerging public health emergency.”

Durkan noted small businesses make up 95% of Seattle establishments and generate nearly 200,000 jobs.

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