MARIETTA, Ga. - Passengers aboard a mammoth cruise ship off the California coast where 21 people have tested positive for a new strain of coronavirus will be transferred to a Georgia airbase, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday.
The governor made the announcement after being briefed that 34 residents of Georgia and additional East Coast residents were currently on the Grand Princess cruise ship. Currently, 19 crew members and two others have tested positive for COVID-19 onboard the ship, which has remained near San Francisco.
After docking, the U.S. Department of Defense says that passengers will be screened at the port. Only asymptomatic passengers will be transferred to military installations.
According to Kemp, the passengers will be securely transferred to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. There they will undergo testing and be quarantined for possible exposure to the new coronavirus.
None of the passengers being tested have currently tested positive for the virus. The final number of passengers sent to Dobbins has not been finalized.
"I am confident that Dobbins is equipped to provide high-quality care for Americans in need while keeping Georgia families safe, and our state stands ready to assist our federal partners if requested," Kemp said in a statement. "In the days and weeks ahead, I encourage Georgians to pray for the patients affected by COVID-19 and their healthcare providers. We must continue to support one another, trust the advice of the medical community, and remain vigilant.
In a statement, Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce said he acknowledged that the transport of the passengers may bring concerns from residents of the county, but said they are taking every precaution to address the situation.
"We're here with you and we will be taking every possible measure to ensure that we are on top of this," Boyce said.
The passengers are expected to arrive at the airbase late Monday or early Tuesday. The Grand Princess cruise is expected to dock in Oakland on Monday, according to the cruise line.
Health officials are still trying to establish whether the virus is circulating on the Grand Princess undertook the testing after reporting that a passenger on a previous voyage of the ship, in February, died of the disease.
In the past few days, health authorities disclosed that at least nine other people who were on the same journey also were found to be infected. And some passengers on that trip stayed aboard for the current voyage.
“We know the coronavirus manifested among the previous passengers ... we will be testing everyone on the ship, we will be quarantining as necessary," Pence said. “We anticipate that they will be quarantined on the ship, they will not need to disembark."
Another Princess cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus, and ultimately about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.
Georgia currently has five cases of COVID-19 and are awaiting results from two other presumptive positive tests as well.