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Grand Princess passengers angry they learned of coronavirus cases from Pence instead of ship’s captain

Virus outbreak in California
The Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge on Feb. 11. Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered the cruise ship to hold off at the California coast on March 5 to await testing of those aboard, after a passenger on an earlier voyage died and at least one other became infected.
(Scott Strazzante / San Francisco Chronicle)

Debbi Loftus is among the passengers aboard the Grand Princess who have been stranded off the coast of San Francisco, awaiting test results to determine whether they have the coronavirus.

She and others on board found out Friday that at least 21 people tested positive. But the news came during a news conference from Vice President Mike Pence.

And that left her and others unhappy.

“This really sucks that the government decided that they should be the one to break the news,” Loftus said minutes after word broke. “Right now I, and I know my parents, are extremely angry that we are hearing this from the vice president rather than our captain.”

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At 3:30 p.m., the ship’s captain apologized to passengers that they had to hear of the positive cases from the vice president’s address, according to one person on board.

The captain told passengers that the ship was not given advance notice of the announcement. The captain also told them that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now discussing with the ship’s medical personnel how to inform people of their individual results.

Princess Cruises said in a statement that it also was unaware of the test results prior to Pence’s statement. “We were notified by Vice President Pence while he was conducting a press conference and simultaneously” by the CDC, the company said in a statement. The ship’s doctor was working to inform those tested of their results, the statement continued.

A source familiar with the process said government officials knew for several hours that there were multiple positive results from the testing done aboard the cruise liner, which has 3,533 people. These include 2,422 guests and 1,111 teammates. In total, they represent 54 nationalities.

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Pence said the federal government is working with the state of California to bring the cruise ship into a noncommercial port over the weekend and quarantine those aboard as necessary. Those who tested positive included 19 crew members and two passengers.

Karen, a Canadian passenger who asked to be identified only by her first name, said her fears extended to what could come next.

“I’m not afraid of this virus,” she said moments later. “I’m terrified of a quarantine on board.”

“That changes things,” said another person on the ship. “I’m not going home anytime soon.”


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