Twenty-one people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence confirmed Friday.
Pence said at a White House news conference that 46 people on the ship were tested for COVID-19. Two passengers and 19 crew members tested positive.
One test proved inconclusive, while the other 24 tested negative, he said.
The ship is currently anchored off the coast of San Francisco, where it has been since Wednesday night. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has said officials will not allow the ship to dock in port until all passengers are tested or assessed.
Pence said a plan has been developed to bring the ship into a non-commercial port over the weekend. All passengers and crew members on board will be tested for the coronavirus.
“We are taking all measures necessary to see to the health of the Americans and those involved on the Grand Princess, and just as importantly to protect the health of the American public and prevent the spread of the disease through communities in this country,” the vice president said.
Pence said officials anticipate passengers will be quarantined if necessary on the ship, rather than on shore, despite criticisms that similar measures taken on the Diamond Princess ship in Japan helped the virus spread to more passengers there.
U.S. military helicopters flew officials with the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Grand Princess on Thursday to administer the tests, which were dropped down by rope. Those helicopters then flew the tests back to California to be processed.
Some of those tested had been on an earlier round-trip sailing of the cruise ship from San Francisco to Mexico, and had remained on the ship for a planned sailing to Hawaii.
At least 10 other people who were on that earlier trip and disembarked on Feb. 21 have also been infected, including two people in Ontario and one in Alberta who tested positive after they returned home.
Government officials say 235 Canadians are currently aboard the Grand Princess out of more than 3,500 passengers and crew. The nationalities of the positive cases are not yet known.
Global News has reached out to Global Affairs Canada for more information about the Canadians on board.
Two of those Canadians are John and Assunta Gerretsen, the parents of Kingston and The Islands MP Mark Gerretsen. John himself is a former longtime MPP for the Kingston area, and both he and his son have served as the city’s mayor.
Assunta Gerretsen told Global News the passengers learned about the test results from the news before hearing it from the crew — which also wasn’t informed prior to Pence’s press conference.
In audio obtained by Global News from Ian Graylish, a Toronto man on board, the captain can be heard apologizing to passengers for hearing the news through the media first.
“We apologize, but we were not given advance notice of this announcement by the U.S. federal government,” the captain says over the ship’s loudspeaker. “It would have been our preference to be the first to make this news available to you.”
The captain said the ship’s doctor would inform the positive cases, who will stay under quarantine until the ship docks, when they will be taken to hospitals for further care.
The remaining passengers are being told to stay in the cabins. Graylish said meals are being provided through room service, and staff recently dropped off “activity packages” containing crosswords, Sudoku and cards.
Graylish said the passengers have not been told when they may end up docking.
After visiting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., earlier Friday, President Donald Trump said he would prefer to “leave everybody” on the Grand Princess, rather than move passengers to quarantine locations on land.
“If it were up to me, I’d say leave everybody on the ship for a period of time and use the ship as your base,” he said. “But a lot of people would rather do it a different way.”
Trump added his main concern would be that the number of cases in the U.S would spike if passengers were quarantined on the land.
Another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. About 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure.
Pence and other officials continued to assure that the overall risk of the coronavirus remains in low in the U.S., where more than 230 cases have been reported across 18 states, including 14 deaths. One of those deaths was in California.
Pence, who Trump put in charge of the administration’s response to the coronavirus, also announced Friday that long-sought test kits are arriving in every state as requested, and that testing is underway.
With files from Global’s Kraig Krause and the Associated Press