MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s top epidemiologist has denied that a cruise ship passenger who died in California this week of the new coronavirus was on a ship that visited Mexican ports. The denial contradicted statements by health officials in California and one Mexican state that the ship visited, leaving open the question of whether other people in the Mexican ports may have been exposed to the virus.
Mexico’s head of epidemiology Dr. José Luis Alomía Zegarra, when asked again about the Grand Princess ship at a Thursday evening briefing, said the passenger who had died of COVID-19 on Wednesday in California had been on a subsequent cruise that did not stop in Mexico.
He erroneously said the passenger was on the cruise the Grand Princess made to Hawaii, which would have been impossible since the passengers on that cruise remained aboard the ship Friday off the coast of San Francisco.
After the Mexico cruise ended in San Francisco the ship had departed for the new cruise to Hawaii. The ship was returning from the Hawaii cruise when the passenger from the Mexico trip died in California, leading the cruise line to cancel a scheduled stop in Ensenada, Mexico.
California health officials have traced three cases of the coronavirus to the Grand Princess Mexico cruise from Feb. 11-21. Two of those remained hospitalized and the other one was California’s first coronavirus death. Health officials in Sonoma and Placer counties made clear that the patients had been passengers on the Grand Princess’ Mexico cruise.
Two other passengers from that trip have been hospitalized in Canada. The cruise made port calls in Manzanillo, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. The last stop in Mexico before the ship returned to San Francisco was Feb. 18 in Cabo San Lucas, one day before the passenger who died began to display symptoms of the virus.
Yet Alomía said Thursday of the Mexican cruise that “there is no report of even any suspected case of COVID-19.” The cases were confirmed after the cruise finished, but California health officials have linked them to the cruise.
A spokeswoman for Mexico’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request to make Alomía available for comment.
Unlike Alomía, Sinaloa state health authorities confirmed that the passenger who later died in California had been aboard the Grand Princess cruise that stopped Feb. 17 in Mazatlan.
The state health ministry in Sinaloa where Mazatlan is located said Thursday that it was in contact with U.S. health officials to get the identity of the passenger who died so they could investigate where the passenger went in Mazatlan.
Cruise ship passengers typically fan out in ports to eat, shop and make excursions to area attractions.
Sinaloa’s dDirector of prevention and health promotion, Dr. Rafael Félix Espinoza, said all 2,454 passengers and 1,116 crew members were subjected to health protocols when they arrived at the port and none displayed symptoms that would pose a risk to the population.
He did not elaborate on what those protocols were, but in other states they typically involve requesting the ships’ logs and any information about any ongoing health issues before passengers come ashore.
“There was no passenger on that boat on that day suspected of having COVID-19,” he said. He added that there were still no known cases of the virus in Sinaloa.
Officials in Jalisco, Sinaloa and Colima did not immediately return requests for comment.