Federal and state officials in California were preparing Monday to receive thousands of people from the Grand Princess, a cruise ship that has been idling off the coast of San Francisco with at least 21 people aboard infected with the novel coronavirus.
Meanwhile another cruise ship, the Regal Princess, pulled into Port Everglades in Florida late Sunday after being held off the state's coast for hours while awaiting coronavirus test results for two crew members. They tested negative, the cruise line said.
Fences were being installed at an 11-acre site at the Port of Oakland as authorities readied flights and buses to whisk the more than 2,000 passengers aboard the Grand Princess to military bases or their home countries for a 14-day quarantine. More than 3,500 people on the ship hail from 54 countries.
"We're making every effort to get them off the ship as safely and quickly as possible," said Dr. John Redd of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who urged passengers to remain in their rooms.
As the U.S. death toll from the virus ticked up and the number of cases worldwide soared above 110,000, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Oakland's mayor sought to reassure the public that none of the Grand Princess passengers would be exposed to the U.S. public before completing the quarantine. The number of infections in the U.S. climbed above 500 as testing for the virus increased.
Oakland was chosen for docking because of its proximity to an airport and a military base, Newsom said. U.S. passengers will be transported to military bases in California, Texas and Georgia, where they'll be tested for the COVID-19 virus and quarantined.
About 1,100 crew on the ship, 19 of whom have tested positive for the new virus, will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, which will dock elsewhere, Newsom said.
"That ship will turn around — and they are currently assessing appropriate places to bring that quarantined ship — but it will not be here in the San Francisco Bay," he said.
The State Department was working with the home countries of several hundred passengers to arrange their repatriation, including nearly 240 from Canada.
The ship was held off the coast amid evidence it was the breeding ground for a cluster of at least 20 cases from a previous voyage.
A third Princess ship, the, was quarantined for two weeks at Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.
On Sunday, the U.S. State Department urged U.S. citizens against travel on cruise ships as officials said there was "increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment."