Coronavirus has continued to spread among the passengers and crew of the quarantined Princess Cruises’ ship, Diamond Princess, which remains docked at the port in Yokohama, Japan. As of Tuesday, 542 cases of the virus have been identified among the 3,711 quarantined passengers and crew, making the ship the site of the most infections outside of China.
Later the same day, Johns Hopkins University, which has been keeping a digital dashboard of all the cases, deaths and recovered patients across the globe added the 14 infected American evacuees from the Diamond Princess to the United States’ tally for a total of 29, nearly doubling its previous total of 15. The new figure represents the highest infection rate of any Western country. The next closest is Germany, which has 16.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told the USA TODAY Editorial Board and reporters Monday that the original idea to keep people safely quarantined on the ship wasn’t unreasonable. But even with the quarantine process on the ship, virus transmission still occurred.
“The quarantine process failed,” Fauci said. “I’d like to sugarcoat it and try to be diplomatic about it, but it failed. People were getting infected on that ship. Something went awry in the process of the quarantining on that ship. I don’t know what it was, but a lot of people got infected on that ship.”
The 14-day quarantine for those on the ship was due to end Wednesday. However, some Americans have already departed the ship.
Two planes took a total 328 people to military bases in California and Texas Sunday. Early the following morning, 13 high-risk passengers were transferred to the National Quarantine Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. One was transferred to the biocontainment facility due to symptoms and a pre-existing chronic condition that would make him more vulnerable should he contract the virus.
Taylor Wilson, a spokesman for Nebraska Medicine, said Tuesday that the medical team there had finished testing the passengers. However, Nebraska Public Health Labs, one of only three state-run labs in the country certified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to analyze the results, must confirm their findings with the CDC first, a process that could take several more days.
“A number of guests are beginning to disembark Diamond Princess as part of their individual countries’ responses,” Rai Caluori, an executive vice president for Princess Cruises, said in a video message published Monday. “We are providing information to those who disembark so we can remain in full contact and provide travel support once the quarantine requirements in their home countries are complete.”
He continued, “Embassy officials in many countries are now reaching out to their citizens directly, and we urge everyone who is contacted to read those communications very closely. These messages provide critical information about the resources being made available as well as additional requirements that may impact someone’s return home in the event they decline their country’s repatriation offer. We will also shortly provide our guests more detail about the resources we can provide once the shipboard quarantine period is complete.”
Those who came back to the U.S. a couple of days ahead of the end of the ship’s quarantine will have to spend at least another 14 days under quarantine. The Princess Cruises ship was carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew when it set sail and was quarantined after 10 cases of coronavirus were reported Feb. 4. About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship, and some chose not to end the quarantine early.
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José Andrés arrives in Japan to feed quarantined passengers
Caluori also noted that Princess has brought in teams to relieve the crew members who have continued to work since the ship entered quarantine.
To that end, Chef José Andrés’ non-profit organization World Central Kitchen arrived Tuesday in Yokohama, Japan, to help with meal preparation.
Andrés, a James Beard Award-winning chef credited with popularizing tapas in the United States, founded the organization in 2010 in response to the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Since then, WCK continues to assist those in need around the world.
“Just doing our small part to assist during this difficult time. @WCKitchen will be there working side by side with everyone on the ground as long as we are needed,” Andrés tweeted Monday, adding the hashtag “#HanginthereDiamondPrincess.”
Beginning with lunch Tuesday, Andrés’ crew prepared food off-site and used a forklift to load food into cruise ship to help alleviate the workload for Diamond Princess crew members who “just have to distribute the food – they don’t have to make the food,” WCK field operations director Sam Bloch said in a video update.
Princess Cruises announced in an update that WCK meals will be “integrated” into food service options for passengers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, “accommodating all dietary requirements.”
Andrés’ team frequently transports itself to locations struggling through crises, offering quality meals to those struggling. In 2017, the WCK headed to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where volunteers served 3.7 million meals. Last January, Andrés stationed a kitchen in Washington, D.C., to feed federal employees out of work during the government shutdown. More recently, the team has been in Australia helping bushfire victims.
“Definitely a different situation here,” Bloch added. “We’ve really just been in support of the cruise line and the different agencies that have the really hard job and decisions ahead of them. It’s definitely a different situation for us. But then again, every disaster, every immigration crisis, every situation that we address is a unique and different situation. Every one has its own challenges that we are able to quickly adapt (to) and figure out.”
Westerdam passengers back in limbo
Meanwhile, some passengers who had disembarked Holland America’s MS Westerdam in Cambodia Friday were still stuck in limbo.
According to Holland America Line, an 83-year-old American woman who departed from Westerdam on Friday later reported feeling ill at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and tested positive for coronavirus, according to a release from the cruise line shared with USA TODAY by Buck Banks.
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Dr. William Walters, the director of operational medicine at the U.S. State Department, told reporters Monday afternoon that 260 American citizens remain in hotels in Cambodia pending onward travel, and 92 more are on board the MS Westerdam. Around 300 Americans left Cambodia after testing under their ministry of health.
Holland America said that as of Monday 255 passengers and 747 crew members remained on the MS Westerdam, which is docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The cruise ship, which didn’t have any cases of coronavirus reported during the voyage, had been turned away from multiple ports.
As of Tuesday morning, over 73,336 people have contracted coronavirus worldwide and 1,874 have died, according to Johns Hopkins data.
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Contributing: The Associated Press