By Bill Chappell
Twenty-one people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California have tested positive for the coronavirus disease COVID-19, Vice President Pence announced Friday
The Grand Princess had been returning to San Francisco after a cruise to Hawaii and has been kept away from port while a small portion of the roughly 3,500 people on board are tested for the coronavirus.
Pence said of 46 tests conducted so far on the ship, 19 crew members and 2 passengers tested positive, while 24 people were negative and one was inconclusive.
The ship will now be brought into a noncommercial port where all passengers and crew will be tested for coronavirus, the vice president said during a briefing at the White House. Some people onboard may be quarantined, he said, emphasizing that measures will be taken to avoid spreading the virus.
A former passenger on the Grand Princess died from COVID-19 in California — the state's first known death from the coronavirus. On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to help his state cope with the crisis.
California National Guard helicopters have been ferrying coronavirus test kits back and forth from the ship. Samples were collected from 45 people on Thursday, according to Princess Cruises.
Officials are also working to track down thousands of people who were on an earlier Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico and might have been exposed to the coronavirus.
The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues an alarming rise, as Washington state reports 79 cases and California reports at least 60. The coronavirus is also affecting more Americans abroad, as a church group from Alabama is now under quarantine in a Palestinian hotel.
A Seattle-area hospital confirmed an additional coronavirus death Friday, raising the Washington state total to 14 and the U.S. death toll to 15.
More than 20 states are reporting cases of the respiratory virus.
New cases in the U.S.
There are at least 260 coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to a tracking tool created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. That figure includes more than 40 people who were repatriated from outbreak sites in China and Japan.
New York has 33 confirmed coronavirus cases, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday, adding that roughly 4,000 people are under "precautionary quarantine" because of possible exposure or their medical circumstances.
Indiana announced its first presumed case on Friday. That case involved an adult who had visited Boston, member station WFYI reports.
The California county that reported the state's first death is reporting more COVID-19 cases. Placer County officials say the three people diagnosed with COVID-19 had all traveled on the same Grand Princess cruise as the resident who died: a voyage from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to 21.
In Nevada, one of two cases that were recently reported is a Reno man who is also linked to the Grand Princess, which has been prevented from docking along the California coast after a former passenger died from COVID-19. The Nevada man's "condition is stable and he is self-isolating at home," according to the Washoe County Health District, which includes Reno.
The other Nevada case is in Clark County. Both of the Nevada cases involve men who are in their 50s, health officials say.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf reported two confirmed coronavirus cases Friday morning, while officials in Maryland announced three cases, and Colorado confirmed two Thursday night.
Worldwide, the number of coronavirus cases has surpassed 100,000, including more than 80,000 in China.
To avoid spreading any virus, the World Health Organization recommends people wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if a sink isn't available. Face masks should only be used by people who are either sick or caring for someone who is, the WHO says.
Alabama church members quarantined in Bethlehem
More than a dozen members of an Alabama church have been placed under quarantine orders during a tour of the Holy Land, after the Bethlehem hotel where they were staying was informed that a former guest had tested positive for the coronavirus in Greece. The group includes the leadership of the 3Circle Church; they initially arrived in the area on March 1.
Church members say they were initially told to leave the hotel — but were then told to return. When they did, they faced a quarantine, along with the hotel staff.
"So far, 7 hotel employees have tested positive for the coronavirus," a church pastor said in a statement sent to Daniel Estrin.
Hotel staff echoed the church members' description of local authorities taking a confusing approach to the quarantine, according to The Jerusalem Post. The manager of the Angel Hotel told the newspaper that the Americans had looked for other lodging in the area, but were turned away by every hotel.
The group is now being told to stay in their rooms for 14 days; Estrin adds that Israel has "sealed off movement in and out of Bethlehem."
The pastor tells Estrin that the group has reached out to the U.S. Embassy about their predicament.
"The hotel employees have been incredibly helpful to the team during this process," the pastor said. "The 3Circle team is asking for help and clarity, but most importantly, prayers."
In an update posted to the church's Facebook page, the group said the mayor of Beit Jala, on the western outskirts of Bethlehem, had ensured that their medications were delivered to the hotel.
"We are deeply grateful, and are so humbled by the incredible hospitality and kindness we have experienced from the people in this area," the church members said.
Washington state grapples with outbreak
EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Wash., says its 12th patient has died from COVID-19. Most of the patients who died had been residents of the Life Care Center of Kirkland, a nursing home identified as the site of a coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to the 12 people who have died at EvergreenHealth, two people have died elsewhere in Washington state and one person in California has died.
The University of Washington is halting all in-person classes due to the coronavirus outbreak, telling students they should attend online sessions instead, starting Monday and lasting through the end of the winter quarter on March 20.
The school says all final exams "will not be conducted in person, but may be conducted online when feasible, and at the instructor's discretion."
The university's move is meant to support social distancing – maintaining roughly 6 feet of personal space. The CDC says that in areas experiencing an outbreak, the practice can "limit exposure by reducing face-to-face contact and preventing spread among people in community settings."
After announcing the decision, the school said one of its staff members has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-isolation.
U.S. coronavirus testing had 'missteps'
More laboratories around the U.S. are finally gaining the ability to test for the coronavirus disease, after what Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calls "missteps" in the federal government's plan to create, produce and distribute tests.
Six U.S. states — Alabama, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming — currently have no labs with the verified ability to run COVID-19 diagnostic tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday afternoon.
"We're not there yet, but soon," Fauci said of the effort to make testing more widely available.
As Allison Aubrey reports, "Some academic hospitals are developing their own tests and commercial options are expanding really quickly." The results, she adds, "can take three or four days" before they're reported to local health officials and the CDC.
Vice President Pence acknowledged a shortage of tests on Thursday, saying, "We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward."
To address the growing crisis, President Trump signed an emergency funding package worth some $8 billion Friday morning. The president had been scheduled to sign the coronavirus bill at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, but instead he opted to sign it at the White House before leaving on a trip to Tennessee and Florida.