A cruise ship hit by the new coronavirus is heading for a port in California, the captain has told passengers, although they are destined to stay on board for at least another day.
Captain John Smith, in a recording provided by passenger Laurie Miller of San Jose, told guests that the Grand Princess will dock in Oakland.
Owner Princess Cruises said the ship, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries, is expected to arrive on Monday.
“An agreement has been reached to bring our ship into the port of Oakland,” Capt Smith told passengers on Saturday night. “After docking, we will then begin a disembarkation process specified by federal authorities that will take several days.”
He said passengers who need medical treatment or to be admitted to hospital will go to healthcare facilities in California, while state residents who do not require acute medical care “will go to a federally operated isolation facility within California for testing and isolation”.
American guests from other states will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states. Crew members will be quarantined and treated on board the ship.
Capt Smith said the information he was given did not include any details about what would happen to passengers from other countries.
“We are working to obtain more details overnight … I’m sorry I can’t provide you more details right now,” he said.
The Grand Princess had been forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel was the breeding ground for a cluster of nearly 20 cases of Covid-19 that had resulted in at least one death after a previous voyage.
Meanwhile, the US death toll from the virus climbed to 19, with all but three victims in Washington state.
The number of infections surged to more than 400, scattered across the US, as passengers on board the ship holed up in their rooms.
Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Paradise, California, went on the cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They said they were a bit worried but felt safe in their room, which they had left just once since Thursday to video-chat with their children.
Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays with their food in covered plates, delivered outside their door. They have been occupying themselves by watching TV, reading and looking out of the window.
“Thank God we have a window!” said Mr Smith.
The ship was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was held off the California coast on Wednesday so people with symptoms could be tested for the virus.
On Saturday, cruise officials disclosed more information about how they think the outbreak occurred.
Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Carnival Corporation, said it is believed a 71-year-old Northern California man who later died of the virus was probably sick when he boarded the ship for a February 11 cruise to Mexico.
The passenger visited the medical centre the day before disembarking with symptoms of respiratory illness, he said.
Others from several states and Canada who were on that voyage have also tested positive.
The passenger probably infected his dining room server, who also tested positive for the virus, Mr Tarling said, as did two people travelling with the man.
Two passengers now on the ship who have the virus were not on the previous cruise, he said.
Some passengers who had been on the Mexico trip stayed on board for the current voyage – increasing crew members’ exposure to the virus.
Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus.
Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people on board became infected in what experts pronounced a public health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.
Hundreds of Americans on board that ship were flown to military bases in California and other states for two-week quarantines. Some later were admitted to hospital with symptoms.
An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ship’s ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, make passengers and crew vulnerable to infectious diseases.
“They’re not designed as quarantine facilities, to put it mildly,” said Don Milton, of the University of Maryland.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 3,400, the vast majority of them in China. Most cases have been mild, and more than half of those infected have recovered.