Health and Science

A Princess Cruises ship is — again — the source of a potential coronavirus outbreak

Key Points
  • Princess Cruises said it will test fewer than 100 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which California health officials said is the site of another COVID-19 outbreak.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom said passengers and crew have developed symptoms. 
  • Newsom said the U.S. Coast Guard will deliver test kits to the ship by helicopter on Thursday.
In this Feb. 11, 2020 photo, the Grand Princess cruise ship passes the Golden Gate Bridge as it arrives from Hawaii in San Francisco.
Scott Strazzante | San Francisco Chronicle via AP

Princess Cruises said it will test some of the passengers and crew aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which California health officials said is the site of another COVID-19 outbreak. The company said fewer than 100 people would be tested.

The ship, which was on a two-week voyage to Hawaii, was ordered to return early to San Francisco, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, adding that passengers and crew have developed symptoms. A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that three passengers who were previously on the ship have since tested positive, including one who has died.

Shares of parent company Carnival Corp. fell more than 14% Thursday.

The ship was due to arrive in San Francisco on Wednesday, Newsom said, but is currently off the coast of California, according to Seascanner, which tracks the location of ships. Executive director of San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management Mary Ellen Carroll said Thursday there are about 3,500 people aboard the ship. Of that, 35 people have exhibited symptoms, Carroll said, though some have recovered.

"That ship is now being delayed to provide ample opportunity for the CDC in partnership with Coast Guard and state health officials to conduct tests," Newsom told reporters late Wednesday, "because we have a number of passengers and crew members who have developed symptoms on this cruise ship."

Newsom added that the U.S. Coast Guard will deliver test kits to the ship by helicopter on Thursday. The kits will be analyzed at a lab in Richmond, California, Newsom said, "where we'll be able to very quickly, within just a few hours" test the samples. However, San Francisco's Mary Ellen Carroll said Thursday that test results are expected Friday.

San Francisco officials did not say what would happen if people on board the ship test positive for COVID-19. 

"Once we have results from the tests, the CDC and the state will determine the most appropriate location for the ship to berth," Carroll said.

Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard were not immediately available for comment.

Only passengers and crew who have symptoms and people who were guests on the ship's previous voyage will be tested, the company said in a statement, adding that it's fewer than 100. 

Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruises did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment.

Health officials in northern California's Placer County announced Wednesday that they traced the first COVID-19 death in the state, and the 11th in the country, to the Grand Princess cruise ship. The patient who died was aboard the ship from Feb. 11 to Feb. 21 on a trip from San Francisco to Mexico.

An unknown number of passengers remained on the ship for the voyage to Hawaii and are currently quarantined in their cabins, according to a letter sent to passengers by the company on Wednesday.

More than 2,500 passengers were on the ship for the Feb. 11 voyage, Newsom said, over half of whom are Californians. That does not include the ship's crew, Newsom said, adding that U.S. health officials are contacting everyone who was on board the ship for testing. He said California is now monitoring 9,400 people for COVID-19.

Princess Cruises is also the operator of the Diamond Princess ship, which was the site of what might have been the first major COVID-19 epidemic outside of China. The Diamond Princess was quarantined at a Japanese port on Feb. 4 after a previous guest, who didn't have any symptoms while aboard the ship, tested positive for the virus.  

There were 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the ship, and more than 700 became infected. The Japanese government and other nations eventually evacuated their citizens from the ship. 

VIDEO4:5804:58
Policy expert explains the most concerning part of coronavirus outbreak in US