Pence says 21 people on cruise ship off California tested positive for coronavirus

Vice President Pence said Friday that 21 individuals on a cruise ship off the coast of California tested positive for the coronavirus and that the Trump administration would bring the passengers stateside this weekend. 

The cruise ship will be brought into a noncommercial port. Passengers will be tested for the coronavirus and then officials will quarantine and offer medical attention to those who need it.

The vice president said 46 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship were tested for the virus. Of the 21 who tested positive, 19 are crewmembers and two are passengers, Pence said. He said 24 tests came back negative and one inconclusive. There are 3,500 people on the ship. 

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“The general risk to the American public remains low,” Pence said, though he cautioned that elderly Americans and those who have preexisting health conditions should exercise caution, particularly when it comes to travel.

Pence said he worked closely with California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomOVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters MORE (D) and other state and local officials to develop the plan of action.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, called it a “comprehensive approach” and said federal officials were working closely with medical staff on the ship to make sure that elderly passengers and those with preexisting health conditions would be prioritized. 

The press briefing took place as President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., where he was asked about the fate of the passengers aboard the ship.

Wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat, the president indicated he would defer to the judgment of Pence and other officials. But he said he preferred those who tested positive for the virus remain on the ship in part because he didn’t want the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to spike.

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"I have great experts, including our vice president, who’s working 24 hours a day on this stuff," Trump told reporters. "They would like to have the people come off, I’d rather have the people stay. But I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision.”

Trump expressed concern that bringing individuals off the ship and treating them on land would prompt the reported cases in the U.S. to increase, though he later clarified he did not believe the totals should take priority. 

"I like the numbers being where they are," he said. "I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either.

"I can live either way with it," he continued. "I’d rather have them stay on, personally. But I fully understand if they want to take them off. I gave them the authority to make the decision"

More than 270 cases of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, have been confirmed in the United States. State and local health officials, and members of Congress, have expressed frustration with CDC for the slow pace of testing in the U.S. The agency expects to send out 75,000 tests by the end of this week. 

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Meanwhile, the Food & Drug Administration has allowed private companies to manufacture tests, and 1 million are expected to be shipped out by the end of the week to commercial labs and hospitals. 

Still, it could take days and weeks for testing to fully ramp up.

Some experts think it is likely that the coronavirus is spreading undetected in the country. Outbreaks are ongoing in Washington state, California and New York, and large public gatherings have been canceled across the country. 

Even so, Trump and his top aides have repeatedly claimed the virus is “contained” and boasted of their response efforts. Trump during his visit to the CDC compared the death toll thus far of the coronavirus favorably to influenza, expressing amazement that thousands of people die each year from the common flu.

“It will end,” Trump said of the coronavirus. “People have to remain calm.”