Grand Princess cruise with coronavirus cases docks, unloads 23 people in California
OAKLAND, Calif. — A large media presence and a handful of curious residents greeted the Grand Princess cruise ship as it arrived at the Port of Oakland around noon Monday.
The vessel had been floating off the California coast since Thursday, when 21 of those aboard – including 19 crew members – tested positive for novel coronavirus. The authorities, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, had been pondering where the ship should dock until finally settling on Oakland, across the bay from its initial destination of San Francisco.
Twenty-three people who needed acute medical care had been taken off the ship by late Monday afternoon, but it was not clear how many of them had tested positive for the virus, Shawn Boyd, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services, told the Associated Press.
Aerial footage showed a tent set up at the end of the forward gangway, along with three more set back about 15 yards from the ship, and biohazard-suited medical workers walking between them.
The ship is carrying 2,421 passengers and 1,113 crew members, all of whom need to be screened. (Crew members will remain on the ship if they do not need immediate medical attention.)
Guests who "require acute medical treatment and hospitalization" will be first to disembark, though it's unclear how many people need to be transported to hospitals. One person – presumably one of the 21 people who have the virus – was seen being loaded into an ambulance.
Next will be the ship's 962 California residents, who will be transported to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, and Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego for a 14-day quarantine period. Americans from other states will be taken to bases in Texas and Georgia.
Meanwhile, the State Department has been working with the governments of 54 other countries to arrange repatriation flights for the ship's foreign passengers, which includes nearly 240 Canadians.
'We're just happy to be next to land'
Grand Princess passenger Karen Schwartz Dever said it feels “awesome!” to finally be in the San Francisco Bay, adding that “everyone was hollering and clapping as we entered the harbor."
Although passenger Donna LaGesse of Greenville, North Carolina, doesn't anticipate being allowed off the ship until Wednesday, she told USA TODAY that she and her friends "are happy just to be next to land."
LaGesse, who is traveling with her sister-in-law and a friend who regularly sails with Princess, said it's "sad to see" this scene play out but praised the cruise line.
"Princess has always been exceptional," she said. "By the way, they are still exceptional in how they are treating us during this ordeal."
Michele Smith, 57, of Paradise, California, said a doctor knocked on her and her husband’s cabin door before dawn and asked if they had a fever or a cough. The couple, who are on their annual vacation, are healthy and like the rest of the passengers aboard, have been isolating in their cabins since Thursday.
Another passenger, Laurie Miller, of San Jose, said they were told that anyone who was getting off Monday had already received a written notice and luggage tags.
“Not us!” she said in a message. “This is an absolute circus.”
Nancy Conway and Kevin Sheehan, of Port Orchard, Washington, consider themselves lucky: They have a view of the ocean and no symptoms of coronavirus, reports the The Kitsap Sun, which is a part of the USA TODAY Network.
Conway says movies, along with crossword and sudoku puzzles, help pass the time between ship-wide updates from the captain. Her husband, a retired submariner, is teaching her cribbage. And since she brought her knitting supplies on board, she's also making hats for the homeless.
Every few hours, crewmembers they never see deliver food and supplies to their door. A quick knock and they're gone.
"They are all working very hard to keep us fed and comfortable," Conway said.
Passengers get fresh air and prescriptions delivered as they wait
“We’re making every effort to get them off the ship as safely and quickly as possible,” said Dr. John Redd of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who urged passengers to remain in their rooms.
State Department: U.S. citizens 'should not travel by cruise ship' amid coronavirus outbreak
One guest was disembarked Sunday for medical reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, Princess Cruises said in a statement provided by Public Relations Director Negin Kamali.
As passengers wait for disembarkation, Princess is letting them step out for fresh air and sunlight, as approved by the CDC, "made possible in-part by instructing guests to adhere to social distancing."
The cruise line delivered several hundred prescriptions to passengers over the weekend. Princess is working on processing additional prescriptions and waiting for information on when those can be sent to the Grand Princess.
Passengers Steven and Michele Smith said they hope their time spent on the ship in quarantine will count toward the 14 days they are expected to isolate themselves. But they said officials have not yet provided an answer.
“We would love to get credit for the three or four days we’ve spent in our cabin,” Steven Smith said.
Princess promises refunds, cruise credits
Princess Cruises will refund the full cruise fare for every Grand Princess guest, in addition to air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items, save for jewelry and fine art. Guests will also not be charged for incidental charges accrued during their extra time aboard.
"Princess Cruises will also provide guests with a future cruise credit equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage," according to a statement provided by Kamali on Monday. "Princess Cruises also confirmed that although all gratuities will be refunded back to guests the company will ensure crew members will receive their designated gratuities for the work performed."
Grand Princess passenger LaGesse said she might not be taking advantage of the future cruise credit: "Probably not, the credits are good for one year, and we’re not comfortable that this Virus will be contained or a vaccine available by then. "
Another Princess Cruises ship, the Regal Princess, is now docked at Port Everglades in Florida and set to disembark Monday night. The cruise line confirmed two crew members were tested for coronavirus and their results were negative.
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Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, Jayme Deerwester and Morgan Hines, USA TODAY; Josh Farley, Kitsap Sun; The Associated Press