State Department urges US citizens to avoid cruise ship travel

The US State Department has requested citizens with underlying conditions to avoid travel by cruise ship.

U.S. citizens, especially those with underlying medical conditions, should not travel by cruise ship, the Department of State announced Sunday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is an increased risk of infection of COVID-19 on cruises.

The State Department said passengers with plans to travel by cruise ship should contact their cruise line companies directly for further information and continue to monitor and check the latest cruise ship guidance from the CDC.

Margie Jordan, the owner of Jordan Executive Travel Service, said the announcement could send Florida’s travel industry into a tailspin.

“If they’re coming out with a statement to that magnitude, there’s obviously a lot of concern about how this is going to affect the U.S. and our travelers, especially since we have so many cruise ports here in Florida. This is a big deal. Cruise ships are already struggling. People are already canceling out of fear of traveling on a cruise, being contained with a lot of people," Jordan told News4Jax.

The State Department’s announcement comes as the Grand Princess cruise ship, carrying at least 21 people with the new coronavirus, is headed to the Port of Oakland, California, where it’s expected to dock Monday, the captain told passengers.

The 21 infected people include 19 crew members and two passengers. But the number of onboard infections could rise, as not all 3,533 people on board have been tested.

The ship has been in limbo since Wednesday, when officials learned a California man who traveled on the same ship last month later died of the coronavirus.

On Sunday, the CDC said four people from that February Grand Princess voyage have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. It was not immediately clear whether those four include the California man who died.

In a message to the ship’s current passengers, the captain said authorities reached an agreement to bring the ship into the Port of Oakland. The arrival time Monday and the disembarkation process are being finalized by federal and state health authorities.

“Guests who require acute medical treatment and hospitalization will be transported to health care facilities in California. ... If guests don’t require acute medical care following health screenings, California residents will go into a federally operated isolation facility within California for testing and isolation,” the captain announced.

About 1,000 California residents from the ship will go into mandatory quarantine at Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Naval Air Station, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.

Residents of other states will complete their mandatory quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday morning on Twitter that 34 Georgia residents on the Grand Princess cruise ship will be securely transferred to Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Throughout the quarantine, passengers will be monitored for symptoms of coronavirus, DHHS said.

Hundreds of passengers have been infected from multiple cruise ships

Several cruises have now been linked to patients who were later diagnosed with coronavirus.

On Sunday, Virginia health officials announced the state's second case of coronavirus -- a patient in their 80s who had recently traveled on a Nile River cruise.

The patient, whose name and gender were not released, started developing symptoms of respiratory illness on Feb. 28 and was hospitalized last Thursday, the Virginia Department of Health said. The person is in stable condition Sunday.

But the largest known outbreak on a cruise ship was on the Diamond Princess, a sister ship of the Grand Princess owned by Princess Cruises.

After the first handful of cases were reported from the Diamond Princess, Japanese officials decided to quarantine the ship. Eventually, more than 700 people on board became infected with the coronavirus.

Now Princess Cruises, which owns both the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess, said the CDC has given a “no-sail” order for a scheduled cruise on the Royal Princess ship.

A crew member who recently served on the Grand Princess transferred to the Royal Princess just over two weeks ago, the cruise line said. The CDC issued the no-sail order until the crew member could be tested.

But the cruise line said it was unable to obtain a test for the crew member, and "due to the unknown timing of obtaining the test and results or anticipated response," the cruise was canceled.

A similar situation was playing out off the coast of Florida. Another Princess Cruises ship, Regal Princess, was being held offshore until the CDC could review and test crew members who were recently on the Grand Princess, according to Broward County officials.

The Regal Princess was scheduled to dock in Port Everglades on Sunday morning before departing later that evening, officials said.

Princess Cruises was awaiting coronavirus tests for two Regal Princess crew members who were on the Grand Princess more than two weeks ago, the cruise line said in a statement. But again, the cruise operator decided to cancel the ship's next voyage, scheduled to begin Sunday.

The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed it delivered testing kits to a ship off the coast of southern Florida on Sunday morning.

While in Tampa Sunday, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, said there’s still a learning curve as far as the government and the coronavirus.

“Everybody’s learning about this. I’m never going to point fingers at anybody. At all levels, we’re all learning a lot about the coronavirus and how to deal with it. We’re watching what happened in Washington with the nursing homes,” Scott said. “If you’re in the nursing home industry, you’re learning. The cruise industry is learning.”

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Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.