21 people on Grand Princess cruise ship off California test positive for coronavirus, Pence says

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Vice President Mike Pence said a cruise ship being held off the coast of Californa will be directed to a non-commercial port so all crew and passengers can be tested, during a news conference Friday.

Of the 46 people swab-tested on the Grand Princess so far, 21 tested positive for the virus and one was deemed inconclusive, Pence said. The rest tested negative for the disease. Nineteen of those who tested positive were crew members.

"We're taking all measures necessary to see to the health of the Americans on the Grand Princess and just as importantly to protect the health of the American public and prevent the spread of the disease," Pence told reporters at the White House. "We will be testing everyone on the ship. We will be quarantining."

Those who face the biggest risk from the virus' impacts are elderly individuals with serious underlying health conditions, such as heart and lung disease or diabetes, said National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.

“If you’re a person who is in that category, think twice even before you get on a plane for a long trip or you want to travel or you want to go to a place where there’s people who may have an infection of any sort,” he said.

Pence, the head of the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, stressed that the overall risk to the public remains low.

"General risk for the American public remains low," he said. "But if [there's an] underlying health condition or [the person is] elderly, it's important to take precautions and use common sense, particularly as it relates to travel."

He said Grand Princess crew members and passengers who test positive will most likely be quarantined on the ship.

Earlier this week, Pence promised coronavirus testing will be covered by private insurance plans and by Medicare and Medicaid. He said that because the Department of Health and Human Services has designated the coronavirus test as an “essential health benefit,” people will not have to pay for it out of pocket.

Thousands of tests have been shipped to health centers across the country and more are expected to be next week, officials said Friday.

As head of the task force, Pence will travel to Florida on Saturday to meet with cruise ship operators who have felt the economic impact of the virus after some vessels were turned away from various ports over fears that passengers and crew members could be infected.

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Globally, the virus has spread to 85 countries, infecting 99,624 people and claiming the lives of more than 3,400 others.

The bulk of the cases are in mainland China, where the outbreak originated in December 2019. The U.S. has 244 confirmed cases in 18 states and 12 deaths, the majority in Washington state.

President Trump has defended his administration's response to the outbreak amid criticism from Democrats and some medical health professionals. He said Pence was "working 20 hours a day or more" to spearhead prevention efforts during a Fox News town hall Thursday in Scranton, Pa.

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Earlier Friday, Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending package to provide funds to federal agencies and state and local government to battle the disease. He visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta later in the day after initially canceling a scheduled visit.

He said the canceling was because of suspected coronavirus case at the CDC. It was rescheduled after the person tested negative for the virus.