Coronavirus cases on Grand Princess cruise ship pose new danger in California

Gov. Gavin Newsom
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about the novel coronavirus at a news conference Feb. 27.
(Randall Benton / Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a coronavirus state of emergency Wednesday, hours after California announced its first death, involving a person who got sick on a cruise ship possibly more than half-filled with passengers from the state.

Local health officials were trying to assess whether others who took the cruise became ill from a virus that has been reported in 12 counties in the state and has sickened more than 50 people.

The declaration underscored the growing seriousness of the virus as it spreads in the United States, claiming 11 lives and sending financial markets spinning. More communities across California declared a state of emergency, and in Washington, House lawmakers struck a deal to allocate about $8 billion to help the federal government fight the virus.

The death announced Wednesday involved a 71-year-old man from Rocklin, in Northern California’s Placer County, who had tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a cruise to Mexico. The man first developed symptoms while on a Princess Cruises voyage from San Francisco to Mexico that returned Feb. 21, said Dr. Aimee Sisson, Placer County’s public health officer.

He continued to show symptoms while traveling through the Port of San Francisco, then called 911 and was transported by ambulance to a hospital in Roseville on Feb. 27. He was tested for COVID-19 on Sunday, and the results returned positive Tuesday. The patient died the next morning, Sisson said.


It’s possible that other cruise passengers may have been exposed, officials said. Placer County Public Health is working closely with Sacramento County Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify and contact other cruise passengers.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of this patient,” Sisson said. “While we have expected more cases, this death is an unfortunate milestone in our efforts to fight this disease, and one that we never wanted to see.”

Princess Cruises said it was notified by the CDC that it is investigating a small cluster of cases in Northern California among guests who sailed aboard the Grand Princess to Mexico.

The company said that 62 guests on that voyage remain onboard for a current trip to Hawaii. In an abundance of caution, these guests and other possible close crew contacts have been asked to remain in their staterooms until screened by the ship’s medical team.

Newsom on Wednesday announced a new case in Sonoma County, where an individual who traveled on the same Grand Princess cruise ship as the Placer County victim contracted the virus and is in “very difficult condition.”

The governor added that the Grand Princess was expected to return from Hawaii to San Francisco on Wednesday after cutting the cruise short, canceling its stop in Baja California. The state held the ship off the coast because several passengers and crew members have exhibited coronavirus symptoms.

By one estimate, more than 50% of the roughly 2,500 passengers who returned on the Grand Princess on Feb. 21 were Californians, Newsom said. The state will contact every county health official with passengers in their area by Wednesday night, he said.

Newsom is asking the Legislature to make $20 million available for the state to respond to the coronavirus and announced the California Department of Public Health is dipping into its reserves of millions of N95 masks to distribute to healthcare workers on the front lines.


Los Angeles County declared its own health emergency Wednesday as its number of coronavirus cases increased to seven, including six new patients.

None of the new cases are believed to be “community spread,”officials said. All individuals were exposed to the virus through close contacts with others who were infected.

The additional cases were confirmed Tuesday night. Officials said three of the new cases were travelers who had visited northern Italy, two were family members who had close contact with a person outside the county who was infected, and one had a job that put them in contact with travelers.

One patient has been hospitalized, and the others are isolated at home.

“I want to reiterate this is not a response rooted in panic,” L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said at a news briefing. “We need every tool at our disposal.”

The cities of Pasadena and Long Beach are also declaring public health emergencies related to the novel coronavirus. There are currently no confirmed cases in either city.

Los Angeles County will increase its capacity for testing of the virus at its public health laboratory. Officials will begin daily radio briefings for the public, post new guidelines for schools and colleges, and over the next week will send “technical assistance teams” to make site visits to temporary housing facilities including homeless shelters.

Officials urged people to frequently wash their hands, opt for verbal salutations in place of hugs and handshakes and try to maintain a distance of six feet from strangers.

“We have to be prepared. We have to protect the well-being of our loved ones and our neighbors,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

A screener of incoming flights from China and surrounding countries at Los Angeles International Airport is among the new cases that have tested positive for coronavirus in L.A. County, according to two sources familiar with the report.

The screener, who is attached to the CDC, last worked Feb. 21 at LAX and, after developing potential symptoms, alerted medical professionals and authorities. The person was formally identified Tuesday as having the COVID-19 virus and so far has a mild case and is isolated at home.

In Placer, the death of the cruise ship passenger was the county’s second confirmed case of COVID-19, reported Tuesday night, and it raised local concerns of further contagion. Health officials tried to address those concerns Wednesday.

“Placer County has been conducting intensive contact tracing to identify and contact healthcare workers and community members who were exposed to this individual within the Placer County community,” Sisson said.

So far, Sisson said, health officers have determined that the person had minimal contact in the community since returning from the cruise. Ten healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center and five emergency responders who came in contact with the individual are being quarantined, Sisson said.

California’s first virus death came amid more sobering news about the spread of the virus in the United States, including 10 deaths in Washington state, a new quarantine in the suburbs of New York City and a warning that more cases are on the horizon.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 people in California have the virus, with new cases reported in Berkeley and Santa Clara County. In Orange County, two cases are pending confirmation from the CDC. The cases involve a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s who had both recently traveled to countries with widespread transmission, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The $8-billion deal struck Wednesday in Washington includes funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. It also includes money to help develop a vaccine for protective and medical equipment, as well as aid to state and local governments dealing with the virus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he is “optimistic” lawmakers can approve legislation this week and send it to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

Times staff writers Noah Bierman, Rong-Gong Lin II , Hannah Fry, Phil Willon, Melody Gutierrez and Richard Winton contributed to this report.