Coronavirus: California governor explains why Port of Oakland chosen as 'best site' for cruise ship docking

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday explained why state officials chose the Port of Oakland as the "best site" to allow the cruise ship carrying passengers infected with the coronavirus to dock and disembark there. 

After reviewing "all of its options," Newsom's office said the Oakland port is the only one big enough and remote enough to allow the 3,500 passengers and crew members to get off the ship, some time on Monday. The time hasn't yet been worked out because of the tides in the bay. 

There are limited docks that will be able to dock a ship of that size, and the Port of Oakland location was the easiest to seal off, securely move passengers toward their isolation destinations and protect the safety of the public, Newsom's office said. The port is also close to the airport and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. 

The Port of Oakland's Outer Harbor Terminal also isn't near any big residential or commercial areas, while the San Francisco port, opens up onto the popular Embarcadero, where tourists and businesses are plentiful. The old Alameda Naval Base was the first choice, Newsom added, but then was deemed unworkable because the water at the dock was not deep enough to accommodate the large vessel. 


So far, 21 of the people on board have tested positive for coronavirus, but it's highly possible more have the disease, as only 45 people were formallly tested last week. Of those, 19 were crew numbers. Throughout California, Newsom said 114 people have tested positive for coronavirus, and 12 of those came from the original Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico, where a 71-year-old Placer County man died. In all, state health officials are monitoring 10,000 for possibly having the virus. To date, 788 people have been tested in California, but Newsom said that number should increase dramatically in the coming days. 

Special medical teams were expected to board the cruise ship on Sunday afternoon to triage the passengers. 

"We'll have you home soon," Newsom said, addressing the passengers if they were listening. "I know this is a difficult time for you." 

Not everyone is thrilled the ship will dock in Oakland. 

Grand Princess cruise ship as it passes through the San Francisco Bay on June 27, 2017. Copyright: Duncan Sinfield (Duncan Sinfield)

Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid wondered why the ship had to dock in their city and questioned how the community in Oakland will be kept safe. 

“What steps are you taking to make sure people who work with the evacuees aren’t sent in unprotected and spread it into the community?” Kaplan wrote in a tweet addressed to the governor and Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the Office of Emergency Services. 

"And will you fund hand-washing stations for our communities - incl. homeless - To help stop the spread of disease?" Kaplan also asked. 

Newsom and Port of Oakland Director Danny Wan insisted that the passengers will disembark safely.

“There has been close coordination to assure that port operations, port workers and the community are not impacted," Wan said.

During a Sunday news conference, Newsom gave a huge shoutout to Oakland and Mayor Libby Schaaf for pitching in and allaying any fears about spreading the infection. 

"Some folks turn their backs in times of stress, in times of distress," he said. "That is not exampled here in Oakland." 

He added that Oaklanders are "stepping up in a major way, and their residents deserve universal praise. They are showing the world what makes our state great – coming to the rescue of thousands of people trapped aboard this ship and helping tackle a national emergency." 

Schaaf said throughout this process, she has been asking questions about ensuring the health and safety of West Oaklanders, acknowledging that the neighborhood has been the "victim of environmental racism for decades." 

She said she is satisfied so far by the protocols put in place. 

But Schaaf said she also has empathy for people trapped on the ship.

"Allowing them to disembark at the Port of Oakland is the right thing to do," Schaaf said. "We have to not let our fears dictate or impede our humanity." 

Grand Princess cruise ship as it passes through the San Francisco Bay on June 27, 2017. Copyright: Duncan Sinfield (Duncan Sinfield)

Princess cruise to dock in Oakland

Newsom said his office has been working with the Trump administration to help get everyone safely off the ship, which has been held off the shores of San Francisco since Wednesday night, and not contaminate others. Newsom praised both President Donald Trump and Mike Pence, saying he has had three calls with the vice president. 

"His team is truly exceptional," Newsom said of Pence. 

The federal government and contractors are already preparing the site for disembarkment. Newsom promised the ship will only be docked during the duration of the disembarkment, which might last several days. Newsom emphasized that the passengers "will not be released into the general public."

Passengers who require acute medical treatment and hospitalization will be taken to health care facilities in California. If passengers do not require acute medical care following health screenings, those who are California residents will go to a federally run isolation facility within the state, such as Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and the Marine Corps Station Miramar near San Diego, for testing and isolation, while non-Californians will be flown by the federal government to facilities in other states, such as the Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia, Newsom said.

Newsom stressed that the passengers from out of state and other countries would be taken by shuttle to a seperate section of Oakland International Airport, away from the general flying public. They will fly on chartered planes. 

As for the crew?

Princess cruise employees will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, Newsom said. As soon as the passengers get off, the ship will leave Oakland and "remain elsewhere" for the duration of the crew's quarantine. 

Almost 1,000 of the ship’s passengers are Californians, Newsom said, adding that they have been through a "great deal of stress and were potentially exposed to this virus through no fault of their own."

“With a thousand California residents on the ship, it only makes sense that we all work together to help those in this crisis and ensure that they are quarantined, tested and make their way home when it is safe to do so,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner said.

Some critics are already pointing to the fact that federal officials mishandled events at Travis Air Force Base while receiving sickened passengers last month and who didn't wear the proper protective gear to prevent the spread of the virus.

But state and local leaders say there is no other alternative: People can't be left at sea indefinitely. And Oakland, they say, is willing to step up. 

“California values mean protecting the public and helping those in a crisis," Assemblyman Rob Bonta said. "We’re doing both. We are committed to supporting our federal and local health officials to help our fellow Californians get tested and be healthy, and to prevent any exposure to the general public." 

Port of Oakland.

A cruise ship carrying passengers with coronavirus will dock at the Port of Oakland.

Port of Oakland.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez