FILE PHOTO: Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) Dr. Nancy…
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, speaks about the public health response to the outbreak of the coronavirus during a news conference in Washington, Jan. 28, 2020.

WASHINGTON - A top U.S. health official on Friday confirmed four more coronavirus cases among Americans who were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan and brought to the United States.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call that 18 passengers from the Diamond Princess had tested positive for coronavirus.

On Monday, 329 Americans were evacuated from the ship. After passengers had disembarked, U.S. officials were informed that 14 of them had tested positive for the virus. The State Department decided to quarantine the infected Americans, who were transported with other passengers on two chartered planes.

In Friday’s conference call, officials played down the possibility that the four new patients could have been infected on their way back home.

A photographer takes photos near the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored at a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Feb. 21, 2020.

“It’s important to note that those test samples were obtained 48 to 72 hours prior to the evacuation for the repatriation flight. So the results that you’re seeing doesn’t represent infection en route, they actually represent infection that existed prior to the evacuation,” Dr. William Walters, Executive Director and Managing Director for Operational Medicine for the Bureau of Medical Services at the Department of State, told reporters.

Walters stood by the previous decision to bring the infected Americans on the chartered planes, saying: “I think the folks on the ground did just the right thing by, out of an abundance of caution, moving those 14 people into an isolation area where they pose no threat to themselves or anyone else.”

The Washington Post reported Thursday that officials at the CDC opposed bringing the infected passengers on the same plane, contending they could still spread the virus.

During Friday’s teleconference, Messonnier said, “These are difficult decisions that we’re faced with every day. … There are going to be different perspectives that are brought to the table.”

Messonnier added that she expected more coronavirus patients among those evacuated from the Diamond Princess based on epidemiology. She explained passengers were in a closed setting where there had been a significant spread of the virus.

Special Section