SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) -- Following the state's first reported death from the coronavirus, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday declared a State of Emergency as part of the state's response to the outbreak and said a cruise ship with possible coronavirus patients will be blocked from returning to port in San Francisco until proper testing can be administered to the passengers.
The Grand Princess cruise ship, which is heading back to San Francisco from Hawaii, and canceled a call in Ensenada, Mexico, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening back in San Francisco but is now being held off the California coast until passengers can be tested for COVID-19, Newsom said.
"That ship is now being delayed to provide ample opportunity for CDC partnership with Coast Guard and state health officials to conduct tests, because we have a number of passengers and crew members that have developed symptoms on this cruise ship," said Newsom.
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The governor said testing kits would be flown to the cruise ship and they will be sent quickly back to a lab in Richmond confirm whether the symptomatic patients have just a cold or flu or have the coronavirus.
There are 21 people on board the ship who are experience flu-like symptoms.
Dr. Henry "Chip" Chambers, an infectious disease specialist and UCSF professor, said the situation has a potential to "be a mess." He points out that it will eventually be a challenge to get all the passengers off the ship, but consider what happened to the Diamond Princess in Japan: it left passengers quarantined onboard for two weeks. 704 people got infected and four of them died.
"I would have trouble regarding that a resounding success," Chambers said. He also said it depends how well the patients were isolated and how well quarantine procedures were followed. It also depends on the test results.
"My gut is it's probably a good idea to get people off the boat," he said.
Newsom said the emergency declaration allows the state to make additional resources available, formalizes emergency actions already underway across multiple agencies, and helps the state prepare for a wider spread of the virus.
"The proclamation is to serve to help advance our resources, to loosen up our regulatory environment, to provide some clarity in terms of jurisdiction and oversight capacity as it relates to the access and utilization of state properties, be it fairgrounds of other state properties, and allow us to pre-empt local land use if, indeed, we feel that is appropriate," said Newsom. "It allows us on the competitive bidding frame to move forward with our kind of procurement that is necessary with a sense of urgency on medical supplies or other monitoring or suppression efforts that would allow us to move forward without any hurdles."
Newsom also said the emergency declaration allows the different jurisdictions to share data to better address the spread of the virus. California health officials are now monitoring some 9,400 people for the illness in 49 counties. Newsom said as of Wednesday afternoon, there were 53 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.
The proclamation comes on the same day a Northern California patient, one of two local residents who fell ill with coronavirus after returning from a San Francisco-to-Mexico cruise, became the state's first death from the illness.
Officals said the patient was a 71-year-old adult male from Placer County. An official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventionsaid there was "a cluster" of potential coronavirus patients on the current Grand Princess cruise.
Newsom's emergency proclamation also provides for increased protections against price gouging, offers more assistance to local governments and allows health care workers to come from out of state.
KPIX 5's Joe Vazquez contributed to this report.
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