Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday that the United States lacks the facilities to quarantine large numbers of people, as roughly 3,500 passengers remain stuck aboard the Grand Princess as they await testing off the coast of San Francisco. The statement left legislators questioning the safety of implementing a quarantine on board the ship, The Washington Post reports.
A passenger on the ship’s previous voyage, a 71-year-old man, died after contracting coronavirus on his cruise to Mexico. Sixty-two passengers on the current voyage to Hawaii were also on that Mexico trip.
New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan pointed out that 700 people were infected—with seven dead—after being quarantined aboard the Grand Princess’s sister ship, the Diamond Princess, off the coast of Japan for most of February.
“We determined, I thought, that it wasn’t a good idea if there was a positive result on a cruise ship to keep everybody on that cruise ship together,” Hassan said. “Now we’re hearing that there is a cruise ship off California, and yet we don’t seem to have a protocol to get those folks off the ship, into quarantine in a way that would minimize the spread of infection.”
Hassan added, “So I’m just curious and concerned that, given the example of the Diamond Princess and what we thought we learned, that we don’t seem to have a protocol in place right now that is clear.”
Calling the Diamond Princess a “viral disaster,” Cuccinelli replied, “That was a bad quarantine. That was not a successful quarantine situation.”
Senator Hassan challenged Cuccinelli’s insistence that the response by authorities in San Francisco would be more effective, saying, “We have the whole country available to us. We don’t have to worry about overwhelming a single point.”
“We don’t,” Cuccinelli replied. “There is a misconception about the capacity we could put together for quarantining. This is an important misconception.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom confirmed Wednesday night that 21 people aboard the Grand Princess have shown symptoms of coronavirus and that he had requested the ship not return to California until passengers and crew could be tested.
At Thursday’s hearing Cuccinelli told the committee that the Coast Guard was taking testing kits to the ship “literally as we’re speaking.”
As of Friday morning, 45 people on the ship have been tested for coronavirus via kits flown in by Coast Guard helicopters. Results are expected later today—but there’s no guarantee that’ll happen. According to USA Today, passengers are being confined to their staterooms, where all meals are being delivered via room service. Luckily, “extra television and movie options have been added to programming in each state room and guests have been given complimentary internet service.”
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