• AFP-JIJI, Reuters

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Thousands were stranded on a cruise ship off the California coast Wednesday over fears of the new coronavirus after passengers and crew members on board developed symptoms.

Officials delayed the return of the Grand Princess to San Francisco on Wednesday night from Hawaii in order to carry out testing on board for those potentially infected.

A 71-year-old man who had been aboard the vessel during its previous voyage to Mexico died after contracting the COVID-19 illness, becoming the first fatal case in California, operator Princess Cruises and California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

The man had underlying health problems and likely had been exposed on the voyage.

It was the first coronavirus fatality in the United States outside of Washington state, where 10 people have died in a cluster of at least 39 infections that have emerged through community transmission of the virus in two Seattle-area counties.

Hours after the death was announced, Newsom declared a statewide emergency in response to the coronavirus, which he said has resulted in 53 cases across the nation’s most populous state.

“The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus,” Newsom said in a statement.

The ship’s return from its voyage was being delayed to allow “ample timing” for testing of “a number of passengers and crew members that have developed symptoms,” Newsom told a news conference.

“So we’re holding that ship, which (has) thousands of passengers as well, off the coast, and we’ll be conducting those tests,” he added.

Eleven passengers and 10 crew members were potentially infected with the virus, Newsom said.

Around 62 passengers who remained on board from the earlier Mexico voyage were restricted to their rooms for testing, the Princess Cruises company said in a statement.

It was not specified if they were among those displaying symptoms.

“In an abundance of caution, these guests and other potential close crew contacts have been asked to remain in their staterooms until screened by our onboard medical team,” it said.

The ship held about 2,500 passengers plus crew members, said Newsom. According to the company’s website, the vessel is manned by 1,150 crew members.

The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, the same company that operated the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Yokohama last month on which more than 700 people on board tested positive.

At least six people who were hospitalized after being taken off the Diamond Princess have died.

Six new coronavirus patients were confirmed in Los Angeles County, public health officials said Wednesday. One was a federal contractor who may have been exposed while conducting medical screenings at Los Angeles International Airport, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported.

Three others likely were infected while traveling recently to northern Italy, one of the areas hardest hit in the global outbreak. Of the six in Los Angeles County, only one has been hospitalized. The other five are recovering in home isolation.

The greater Seattle region represents the biggest concentration of cases detected in the United States from the virus.

With most of the Seattle-area cases not linked to travel or exposure to people who might have been infected abroad, that means the virus has gone from being an imported phenomenon to taking up residence in Washington state, health officials say.

At least 18 cases, including six deaths, were connected to a long-term nursing facility for the elderly, called LifeCare Center of Kirkland, in a Seattle suburb.

Seattle health authorities urged a number of measures for curbing further spread of the disease, including recommendations for anyone age 60 and older and individuals with underlying chronic health problems or compromised immunity to stay home and away from large gatherings and public places.

They also urged companies to allow their employees to work from home as much as possible, stagger shifts to ease commuter congestion on public transportation and avoid large work-related gatherings.

A growing number of U.S. companies are adopting such steps. On Wednesday Microsoft asked its employees in the Seattle region near its headquarters and in the San Francisco Bay Area to work from home if possible until March 25.

In New York state, the number of cases rose to 10 on Wednesday. Three family members and a neighbor of a lawyer who was previously identified as infected tested positive. The neighbor’s wife and three of his children have also contracted the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

About 1,000 people in suburban Westchester County, where the two families live, were under self-quarantine orders because of possible exposure, Cuomo said.

AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, said Wednesday that people in a group from New York that attended its 18,000-person policy conference in Washington, D.C., this week potentially had been in contact with an individual who contacted the coronavirus before the conference.

Dozens of Congress members attended the conference, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

U.S. lawmakers reached bipartisan agreement on an $8.3 billion emergency bill to help fund efforts to contain the virus. The bill garnered enough votes to pass in the House of Representatives.

More than $3 billion would be devoted to research and development of coronavirus vaccines, test kits and therapeutics. There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the fast-spreading illness.

The administration is working to allow laboratories to develop their own coronavirus tests without seeking regulatory approval first, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 129 confirmed and presumed cases in the United States, up from the previous 108. They were 80 reported by public health authorities in 13 states plus 49 among people repatriated from abroad, according to the CDC website.

Those figures do not necessarily reflect Wednesday’s updates from three states.

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