Two passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship that had cases of coronavirus on board later died after contracting the virus, officials said Wednesday.
These appear to be the first known coronavirus-related deaths involving the cruise ship, which ended up stalled off the California coast for days this month after infected passengers and crew were found aboard. After the ship docked, hundreds of passengers were taken to U.S. military bases for 14-day quarantines, some of which began ending Monday.
Both passengers died "due to complications from the coronavirus," according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which has overseen quarantining the travelers on the bases.
One of the passengers died on Saturday and the other on Monday, HHS said, declining to identify either beyond saying both were male.
HHS said that it was "deeply saddened by the recent deaths" and that it was offering grief support to the families, as was the cruise line.
"Our hearts go out to the families, friends and all who are impacted by these losses," Princess Cruises said in a statement. "All of us at Princess Cruises offer our sincere condolences."
One of the passengers was taken straight from the ship to a hospital, while the other was housed at Travis Air Force Base - one of the four installations that took in quarantined travelers - and taken to a hospital after he developed symptoms, officials said.
The exact number of people from the ship who contracted the virus will probably remain unknown because hundreds of passengers declined testing.
The passengers taken to bases - nearly 2,000 initially, though hundreds later returned to their home states early for quarantines there - were told that testing was optional and discouraged for those without symptoms, they said.
But what emerged from the hundreds who did agree to testing was that the virus spread more widely among those who had been on the ship than was initially confirmed by the testing onboard.
At least 100 people taken from the ship to military bases later tested positive, HHS said Wednesday, nearly five times the number of people who first tested positive when the ship floated near California. Hundreds of results are still pending, a spokeswoman said Wednesday night.
The greater numbers of infections confirmed on land raised fears among some quarantined travelers about the possibility of infected people among their ranks potentially returning to communities this week.
An HHS spokeswoman said the department was not worried about that, saying passengers leaving bases would have finished 14-day quarantines with "no signs of illness" and would "be checked prior to boarding buses."
People on the bases have said their temperatures were taken twice a day. But some said they declined to be tested for the virus because passengers were warned that doing so could delay their departure until they received their results, which officials had said could be the case.
On Sunday, in a reversal, HHS said that it had received "new guidance" from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that people with pending test results but no symptoms would be allowed to leave at the two-week mark.
The Grand Princess trip left San Francisco on Feb. 21 with about 3,500 people on board for a 15-day cruise to Hawaii, with a stop in Mexico planned.
But it emerged that a passenger from the ship's previous trip had tested positive for the virus, raising fears that coronavirus was spreading on board because dozens of passengers, along with crew members, had been on the previous trip and possibly interacted with the person. That former passenger died in California.
The ship floated offshore while officials tested 46 people on board, with passengers confined to their rooms. On March 6, Vice President Mike Pence announced that testing had confirmed the virus in two passengers along with 19 crew members.
It was unclear if the passenger who was taken from the ship to a hospital and later died is one of the two who first tested positive on board.
Princess Cruises said the two passengers who tested positive and their travel companions were transported to local hospitals on March 9, the day people were first taken off the ship in Oakland. HHS said it did not know if the passenger who went directly to the hospital was one of the two who tested positive on board, and Princess Cruises did not respond to the question.