DETROIT -- The situation is growing more dire for passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan, where the novel coronavirus is spreading and a Sterling Heights, Mich., woman remains quarantined.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry confirmed 44 new cases Wednesday night of novel coronavirus, newly named COVID-19, aboard the cruise ship, the Japan Times reported. That brings the total number of passengers with the virus to 218 -- more than any other place outside China, according to the World Health Organization.
"They're just sitting ducks. That's all I can say," said Marci Wulfmeier of Franklin, Mich., whose sister, Myra LaRouche, 72, of Sterling Heights is among the people quarantined on the ship until at least Feb. 19.
"They just have to get off that ship. End of story."
As of Wednesday, 32 of the Americans have confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a letter the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo sent to passengers, citing information from Japan's Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare.
"We are aware of 428 U.S. citizens that were on board the ship," a State Department spokesperson said. "We are aware of reports that multiple U.S. passengers have tested positive for coronavirus, and have been transported to local hospitals for treatment. Due to privacy considerations we cannot comment on specific cases."
Wulfmeier said she's urging her sister to get in touch with representatives in Congress to press them to call for the emergency evacuation of U.S. citizens on board.
"I know contacting the president of the United States sounds a bit extreme. However, you know, it's not that far-fetched, given the circumstances," she said.
The virus, which can cause pneumonia-like symptoms, including cough, fever and trouble breathing that can range from mild to severe, has killed at least 1,369 people, mostly in China. And more than 60,000 people two dozen countries have been confirmed to have it.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday evening that 14 people have COVID-19.