Fears of First U.S.-Based Cruise Ship with Coronavirus Case

Coronavirus continues to spread, and this time it is feared to have caused the death of a former passenger who recently sailed on a Princess cruise ship from San Francisco.

Princess cruise ship logo

The deceased man, a California resident, took a cruise aboard the Grand Princess from February 11-21. 

There may be no way to know for sure where the virus was contracted, but the concern is that it was caught during the man’s cruise.

Placer County officials, where the man lived, stated that he “was likely exposed during international travel from Feb. 11-21 on a Princess cruise ship that departed from San Francisco to Mexico.” 

Update: Dr. Grant Tarling, the Chief Medical Officer for Carnival Corporation (Princess’ parent company) says that the man was likely already infected when he boarded the ship.

Meanwhile, ABC News reports that a second passenger on the ship has also contracted the virus.

In response, Princess Cruises has cancelled the remainder of its current cruise and is sailing back to port in San Francisco, due to arrive Thursday.

The cruise line issued the following letter from its chief medical officer, Dr. Grant Tarling, to its guests aboard the Grand Princess:

Guests Health Advisory – Coronavirus
March 4, 2020
Dear Princess Guest:

I wish to advise you that today we have been notified by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that they are investigating a small cluster of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in Northern California connected to our previous Grand Princess voyage that sailed roundtrip San Francisco from February 11 to February 21. We are working closely with our CDC partners and are following their recommendations.

For those guests who sailed with us on our previous voyage and may have been exposed, in an abundance of caution, the CDC requires you to remain in your stateroom until you have been contacted and cleared by our medical staff. A member of our medical team will be calling you between the hours of 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM this morning. You may order room service while you wait for the medical screening to be completed, and we apologize for any inconvenience.

Please be assured that the health, safety, and well-being of all guests and crew are our absolute priority. The CDC is continuing to actively collect information and has set up a meeting with us this morning to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken during this cruise and on arrival in San Francisco. 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.

As we anticipate that further review of the situation will be necessary on arrival in San Francisco, we will be cancelling the call to Ensenada on Thursday, March 5, in order to sail directly to San Francisco and arrive on Thursday afternoon. We will keep you updated with information as we finalize plans. To assist you in contacting your family, we are providing free internet and phone service. We will advise you if the need arises to make changes to your onward travel plans post-cruise.

COVID-19 causes mild illness in about 80% of cases, typically with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, like the common cold or flu. About 20% of people develop more severe symptoms. The more severe symptoms typically occur in more susceptible individuals that have higher risk factors, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, as it does with regular flu. The illness is mainly spread by droplets from close person-to-person contact. It is possible for the virus to spread by hand touch surfaces, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Updated information on the illness can be found at the CDC website.

As with all respiratory illnesses, particularly during cold and flu season, you can take steps to reduce your risk of illness:

1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
2. Supplement hand washing by regularly using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
3. Avoid close contact with people suffering from respiratory illness.
4. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze using a tissue or your bent elbow.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

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.

If you have experienced any symptoms of acute respiratory illness with fever, chills, or cough at any time during this cruise, and you have not already consulted with the medical staff, please immediately contact the Medical Center to report your illness. There will not be a charge for this service.

Thank you for taking the time to read this important information.

To access complimentary internet, turn on your Wi-Fi and access the “ocean” network for connection.

Yours in health,

Grant Tarling, MD, MPH
Chief Medical Officer

A Possible Milestone in the Coronavirus Outbreak

If it turns out that Grand Princess has or had cases of coronavirus, it represents a major milestone in the ongoing situation. While there have been fears of the virus on a several cruise ships, only a small number of ships so far — namely, the Diamond Princess — have had confirmed cases.

With a possible case occurring on another ship, especially one sailing from the United States, it could cause a major disruption to the industry. North America is the largest market for cruises and has already seen turbulence due to coronavirus.

A U.S.-ported ship with confirmed cases would likely lead to even more trepidation among cruise passengers. As well, foreign ports of call may not allow ships to dock if they worry about an outbreak of the virus.

In other words, this could cause even more issues in an industry already suffering from the fallout of the coronavirus.

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