(CNN)A cruise ship passenger died from the coronavirus less than two weeks after he returned home, marking California's first death as the disease sickens people in 15 states.
The death reported Wednesday
was linked to the Grand Princess cruise ship, and was the first coronavirus fatality outside Washington state
, where 10 people have died.
The cruise ship's being held off the California coast so federal health officials can screen the people aboard,
some of whom were on an earlier cruise with the California victim.
The unidentified victim was 71 and had underlying health conditions, Placer County health officials said. He was likely exposed to the virus on the cruise from San Francisco to Mexico between February 11 to 21.
After the Grand Princess finished its Mexico trip last month,
it went on another cruise to Hawaii and is on its way back. Some passengers on the current cruise were on the previous one.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and said local health officials are working with their federal counterparts to trace people who'd had contact with the patient.
"This emergency proclamation will help the state further prepare our communities
and our health care system in the event it spreads more broadly," he said.
The ship's carrying about 2,500 passengers on its current voyage. Eleven passengers and 10 crew members have developed symptoms, Newsom said.
Test kits delivered by helicopter
Princess Cruises said it's been notified by federal health officials
that there's a "small cluster" of cases from the February voyage. There are 62 passengers on the ship who sailed that San Francisco-Mexico voyage and remained onboard for the current Hawaii one, it said.
To screen passengers who may have been exposed to the virus, the Coast Guard will deliver sampling kits to the ship Thursday via helicopter, and a medical team aboard will administer the tests. The samples will be sent by helicopter to a lab in Richmond, California, Princess Cruises said.
Mark Pace and his wife, Beth, are on a cruise to celebrate her birthday, and are among passengers awaiting aboard the Grand Princess. They'd sailed from San Francisco to Hawaii, where they spent four days on several islands.
The Tallahassee, Florida, couple told CNN on Wednesday night that they're aboard the ship but not confined to their rooms. Pace said the cruise ship had canceled its theater shows, and he was watching his wife play games in the casino.
"We are a little nervous about it. We knew it was a possibility. We came prepared with two weeks of extra medication and my laptop so that I could work if we were confined," he said.
Pace said they've noticed subtle changes on the cruise. For example they had to wash their hands and use hand sanitizer in order to get a plate and silverware for the buffet.
"And crew handled everything. We were not allowed to serve ourselves," he said.
Some are confined to their rooms
Cheri Breault Harris is aboard the ship with her husband, and is confined to her stateroom because she was a passenger on the previous voyage.
"They were going to examine us today, but that never happened. I guess they are waiting for the CDC to say what to do after we get to San Francisco," Harris said.
Grand Princess said federal health officials required people from the previous voyage to remain in their staterooms until they've been cleared. The cruise ship canceled its call to Ensenada scheduled for Thursday, and said it plans to sail directly to San Francisco. The exact date and arrival time have not been determined.
"We are not happy about being confined ... Luckily, my husband and I like each other," Harris said. "Spirits are as high as can be under the circumstances. We are blessed to be healthy, comfortable and well-fed."
Princess Cruises said it's shared relevant travel and health data with the CDC to facilitate notification to state and county health authorities, who'll follow up with individuals who may have been exposed.
The number of US cases rises
Health officials are urging local communities to think of ways to stop the coronavirus
from spreading as the number of confirmed cases grows to 159 nationwide
, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is owned by the same company, was at the center of a previous coronavirus exposure in late January and had to dock off Japan to keep passengers quarantined.
At least 705 people contracted the virus during the quarantine. For a time, the ship had the largest concentration of cases outside of mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated.
Of the total number of cases confirmed nationwide, 46 were from the Diamond Princess.