Eighteen Americans who were flown back to the U.S. from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for the new coronavirus, administration officials said Friday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said three persons who were repatriated from Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — on previous State Department flights tested positive.
The agency said outside of repatriation flights, there have been 11 travel-related cases of coronavirus in the U.S., plus two more people who caught the disease from human-to-human transmission.
Former Diamond Princess passengers who tested positive are being treated at a special facility in Nebraska or facilities closer to their quarantine sites on military bases in California or Texas.
CDC officials said an additional 10 passengers who were tested by Japan were positive, bringing the total of repatriated Americans with the disease known as COVID-19 to 31.
People returning on the State Department flights must stay in quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period for the coronavirus that’s become the latest global health scare.
CDC officials said the passengers on the Diamond Princess were always considered to be at high-risk, given the spread of infection while the cruise ship was docked in quarantine off Yokohama.
“We should expect to see additional cases,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The CDC said there are several Americans who remain hospitalized in Japan who are “seriously ill.”
The State Department sent two planes to Japan to retrieve over 300 passengers Sunday. While the evacuees waited on pre-flight buses, officials received lab results showing more than a dozen of them had tested positive for the coronavirus.
CDC officials reportedly objected to letting them board the plane, per previous guidance, but the State Department concluded it could wall off the infected passengers from the others.
State Department and CDC officials downplayed the rift during a conference call with reporters on Friday.
“These are difficult decisions that we’re faced with every day, and we’re making these decisions in real time,” Dr. Messonnier said.
She said various agency officials may bring different perspectives to the table but it is “one U.S. government, working together.”