(Reuters) – Twenty-one people have tested positive for coronavirus aboard a cruise ship denied entry to San Francisco Bay this week after a number of passengers and crew developed flu-like symptoms on the vessel, which was linked to previously confirmed COVID-19 infections.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, announcing results of the tests during a White House briefing, also said the cruise ship Grand Princess will be brought to an unspecified non-commercial port where all passengers and crew, about 3,500 people, will be tested for coronavirus.
Diagnostic test kits were flown by an Air National Guard helicopter on Thursday to the cruise ship, where medical staff took samples from 46 passengers and crew to determine if they have contracted the respiratory virus.
The samples were carried back to a state laboratory in the Bay area. Pence said 21 of the tests came back positive, 24 were negative and one was inconclusive.
In the meantime, passengers aboard the ship said they had been largely confined to their staterooms since Thursday afternoon, as the cruise line requested. One passenger who spoke on Thursday with Reuters, Kathy Reid, 67, a retiree from Granbury, Texas, said she and others felt like they were in “limbo.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom has insisted that the ship, which had been due to return from Hawaii to its home port in San Francisco on Wednesday, remain at sea until everyone aboard who is sick or at risk of exposure to coronavirus can be tested.
Health officials had said on Thursday they planned to initially test 35 passengers and crew who have reported symptoms consistent with coronavirus, as well as dozens of “holdover” passengers from an earlier voyage to Mexico.
State and local officials acted to halt the cruise liner after learning people aboard had fallen ill and two passengers who traveled on the same vessel last month to Mexico later tested positive for coronavirus.
One, an elderly man from Placer County near Sacramento with underlying health conditions, died this week, marking the first documented coronavirus fatality in California. The other, from the Bay area, was described by Newsom as gravely sick.
Health officials say both individuals likely contracted the virus aboard the ship.
A third passenger from the Mexico trip, a Canadian woman from the province of Alberta, has since been reported by health officials there to have tested positive.
Health officials were also seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked in San Francisco on Feb. 21 after the earlier cruise to Mexico.
(This story refiles to restore Pence’s name)
Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Cath Turner in Los Angeles and Jane Lee in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis