14 Americans test positive for coronavirus as U.S. evacuates cruise passengers

By Alex Wigglesworth

Los Angeles Times

U.S. officials said early Monday that 14 American passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan had tested positive for the new coronavirus, but were allowed on flights to military bases in California and Texas.

The State Department chartered the flights to transport more than 300 U.S. citizens from the ship, which had been docked off Yokohama since Feb. 3. The passengers landed Monday at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, although some will continue on to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. All will face a 14-day quarantine on the bases. There were 3,700 crew and passengers aboard the ship.

The 14 infected passengers had been tested two to three days before the evacuation but officials received notice of the positive results after they had left the ship for the airport, the U.S. Departments of State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

The passengers did not display symptoms, the statement added. They were isolated in a specialized containment area on the aircraft. All passengers were to be closely monitored by medical personnel during the flights and moved to the containment area if they showed symptoms, officials said.

Those who stay at Travis Air Force Base will be housed separately from the 234 people already quarantined there after arriving on previous evacuation flights that landed Feb. 5 and Feb. 7, officials said.

The Diamond Princess set sail Jan. 20 and was placed under quarantine by Japanese officials on Feb. 5 after a passenger who departed the cruise ship in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said in a letter sent to cruise ship passengers Saturday.

So far, no positive coronavirus results have been reported among those quarantined earlier at Travis; one case has been reported among those quarantined at Lackland. The virus has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 71,000 since it was discovered in Wuhan, China, in late December.

The move to transport the American cruise ship passengers came as the number of coronavirus cases aboard the Diamond Princess continued to grow over the weekend, with 67 new diagnoses on Saturday, and the U.S. government issued a recommendation that all American passengers and crew members leave.

Health officials say that the COVID-19 virus continues to pose a low risk to the general American public. Just 15 cases had been diagnosed in the U.S.: eight in California, two in Illinois, and one each in Arizona, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. All of the patients had either recently traveled to mainland China or, in two cases, had close contact with someone who did. At least three of the cases were among people who had recently arrived on an evacuation flight from Wuhan.