Avoiding cruise ships is a major way to protect those vulnerable to coronavirus, according to an expert.
Speaking Sunday morning on “Meet the Press,” immunologist Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, outlined what Americans at home can do to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has infected 541 people in the U.S. and killed 21 as of Sunday evening.
Dangers are “overwhelmingly weighted toward people with underlying conditions and the elderly,” Fauci said. “If you’re an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable.
He added: “So it’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable. When I say ‘protect,’ I mean right now. Not ‘wait until things get worse.’ Say no crowds, no long trips and above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.”
Fauci said he “strongly” agrees with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of State’s recommendation that those who are elderly and/or have underlying conditions “think twice” about boarding airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation.
“And not only think twice, just don’t get on a cruise ship,” Fauci added.
Meanwhile, Grand Princess cruise ship passengers are gearing up to begin the disembarking process Monday after 21 people aboard tested positive for coronavirus.
After passengers get off the ship, they will begin a 14-day quarantine at military bases, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday at a news conference.
The process of getting all 2,421 passengers off the vessel, routing them to their destination in a secure fashion and sending the Grand Princess back to sea with its crew of 1,113 is expected to take two or three days, illustrating the intricacy of the task, which is further complicated by the size of the ship.
The Grand Princess has been floating off the California coast since Thursday, waiting for authorities to grant it approval to dock as it returned from what was supposed to be a roundtrip from San Francisco to Hawaii.
Princess Cruises announced early Sunday it had been informed by state and local officials that the cruise would be able to dock in the Port of Oakland on Monday, cruise line public relations director Negin Kamali told USA TODAY.
Speaking Sunday, Newsom said the ship is anticipated to “come in sometime tomorrow,” though an exact time was not available.
Guests who “require acute medical treatment and hospitalization” will be first to disembark. The number of passengers who will need to be transported to a hospital is unknown, Newsom said.
California residents, who make up nearly half of the passengers (962), will be the next group given priority to leave the ship. They will be quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, and Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.
“It’ll be different than things now but hopefully it’ll be one step closer to coming home,” passenger Kailee Higgins Ott, 17, of Mountain View, Calif., told USA TODAY. She’s worried about missing more school, but notes that her teachers are being accommodating.
Other U.S. citizens will be transported either to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia. Passengers from other countries will be flown out of the U.S. on charter flights.
Newsom said the decision was made to dock in Oakland in part because of its proximity to the airport, allowing non-American passengers to get back to their home countries quickly and without contact with the general population.
Crew members who are not in need of immediate medical attention will be quarantined on the Grand Princess ship. After all passengers disembark, the ship will turn around and exit the Oakland port. A location to ultimately dock the quarantined ship is not yet known, but Newsom said it would not be in Oakland.
Newsom stressed the importance of getting details and logistics in place before confirming specifics. ”It’s ‘ready, aim, fire,’ not ‘ready, fire, aim,’ “ he said.
John Redd, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said no new cases of coronavirus have been detected on the ship since the initial tests came out, but more would be known later Sunday when mobile medical teams went on board to do an assessment.
Redd said he just returned from Japan, where he was part of the group that worked last month on the Diamond Princess quarantine, which lasted two weeks off the coast of Yokohama. More than 700 of the 3,711 aboard that ship were infected, and six died.
This time, Redd noted, passengers aren’t getting quarantined on the ship. “We are making every effort to get them rapidly and safely off the ship, and then transported safely to a location for quarantine.’’
Newsom also provided an update on the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in California, which is up to 114, and said 10,257 state residents are getting monitored for signs they might have been infected. Among those are 1,540 from a Grand Princess voyage from San Francisco to Mexico in February. One passenger from that trip died of COVID-19 and another 12 have tested positive.
The governor said he empathized with the passengers currently on the ship.
“We will have you home soon, and I know this is a very difficult time for you, another 14 days for many of you to be quarantined,’’ he said. “But it’s all about not only your safety but your family members and your community when you come back home.’’
Regal Princess held offshore, awaiting test results for two crew members
Another ship owned by the Princess Cruises line, the Regal Princess, was being held off the coast of Florida on Sunday as the ship waits for test results on whether two crew members have contracted the new coronavirus.
The ship was supposed to dock in Port Everglades on Sunday morning but was instead sailing up and down the coast, the Miami Herald and Miami ABC affiliate WPLG-TV reported. The crew members in question had transferred from the Grand Princess cruise ship in California where 21 people aboard tested positive for the virus Friday, including 19 crew members.
USA TODAY has reached out to Princess Cruises for more information.
It is unclear how many people are on board, but it has a capacity of 3,560 guests, according to the cruise line’s website. The Regal Princess’ next cruise scheduled to leave Port Everglades for a seven-day Caribbean trip was also canceled.
Sistine Chapel shuts down as Italy takes drastic containment measures
Already staggering under weeks of fears about the spread of the coronavirus, Italy’s tourism industry has now taken an even more punishing blow.
The Vatican announced Sunday that in coordination with drastic Italian government measures aimed at containing Italy’s virus outbreak, Europe’s worst, it is shutting down its museums, which include access to the Sistine Chapel, until April 3.
The chapel’s ceiling and altar wall, frescoed by Michelangelo, are one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions, and a high point of Vatican Museums visits.
The Italian government’s decree also shut down outdoor sites like Pompeii’s extraordinary archaeological ruins and a blockbuster exhibit in Rome of more than 100 paintings and drawings by Raphael, which was mounted to mark the Renaissance artist’s 500th anniversary of his death from a fever in the city.
Contributing: Morgan Hines, USA TODAY and The Associated Press