OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess made its way under the famed Golden Gate Bridge Monday, heading toward the Port of Oakland where the more than 2,000 passengers will disembark under heavy military security, undergo medical examinations and then be transported to 14-day quarantine sites at four bases across the country.
Passengers wearing masks waved from the ship’s pool area to the helicopters hovering overhead as the Grand Princess neared the bridge, relieved their ill-fated journey was about to come to an end.
WATCH LIVE CONTINUING COVERAGE ON CBSN BAY Area: Grand Princess Arrives In Oakland; Passengers talk about ordeal aboard boat
“It’s been a nightmare the last few days,” Eddie Castellano, a passenger onboard from Miami, told KPIX 5 in the telephone interview. “But today, I’m feeling great. I’m feeling hopeful that we finally after all these days I’m going to be able to get off this ship.”
Looking out his window, Castellano said the dockside was filled with military personnel and ambulances.
“I see some military outside the ship right now,” he said. “I see a lot of military. I see a lot of ambulances… It looks like a war zone. I’m terrified. I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never been through something like this in my life before…I’m worried about the 3,000 people on this boat and their health.”
Maureen James from San Mateo is also a passenger on the ship with her husband. She said the cheers of a crowd on the Golden Gate Bridge as the ship passed underneath made her feel like she’s finally returned home.
“One of the amazing things to me today was when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and the 100-plus people that were on the bridge cheering us on,” she said.
Then the dock workers and truck drivers at the massive Port of Oakland facility also gave the passengers a boisterous welcome.
“The people at the Oakland pier here, honking their horns and cheering us on,” she said. “You know it’s just a warm feeling — there are a few people out there that think why in my backyard. It is what it is. We went on a cruise, something unfortunate happened. They have to get us all off in a safe manner and get us tested to make sure we are okay.”
Video cameras also captured an ill passenger being loaded into at least one ambulance. Officials said the most serious ill and symptomatic passengers will be off-boarded first.
The Canadian passengers were also among the first to be off-loaded. A medical team flew in from Canada, they were evaluating passengers and then those passengers will be taken to Oakland International Airport for a special flight back home at 9 p.m.
Their voyage began as a roundtrip cruise of a lifetime from San Francisco to Hawaii and ended in an anxiety filled holding pattern off the Northern California coast while passengers and crew members with flu-like symptoms were given tests for the coronavirus. Of the 45 tested, 19 crew members and two passengers were diagnosed with the disease.
The ship remained off the coast over the weekend while officials decided on a suitable port where to dock it and disembark its passengers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters on Sunday that the Grand Princess would begin heading toward the Bay “when we have the green light to come into the port.” That ‘green light’ was given around 7:35 a.m.
Web tracking had the ship south of the Farallon Islands about 40 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, but marine radio traffic from the Coast Guard revealed instructions for approaching the San Francisco Bay.
On dockside at the Port of Oakland, where the ship arrived at around noon PDT, four tour buses were parked and crews were also seen setting up several large tents as news helicopters hovered overhead.
For the Grand Princess passengers, seeing the Port of Oakland was a welcomed sight that brought them one step closer to heading home.
Wearing masks, passengers were finally able to leave their cabin. They were greeted by medical professionals in the cruise ship hallways.
Monica Acter was on a family reunion cruise, but the real reunion came on the deck of the Grand Princess after being confined for four days when she shared an embrace with family members.
Maureen James of San Mateo, who gave an interview to KPIX 5 via Skype will the ship was still inbound, was happy at the prospect of the ship finally docking as the Grand Princess sailed into port, but knew there was no telling when she would be able to go home.
“Yes, it’s nice to see land, but you are right. We might be here,” said James. “We are packed, but we might be here for the next couple of days. We have not gotten a baggage claim yet so at this moment we are not one of the first ones getting off.”
On Sunday night, the Coast Guard delivered seven federal health workers to the cruise liner along with some much needed medical supplies. The federal medical team then began to determine the medical status of the most acute or symptomatic cases onboard.
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COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
Once docked in Oakland, passengers will again be screened for any sign of the coronavirus before they will be allowed to continue on to 14-day quarantines at one of four military bases.
Officials said it may take 2-3 days before all the passengers are removed from the ship and tested.
Last week, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor and a four-person California National Guard medical team were lowered onto the ship. They tested 45 people who were suffering from flu-like symptoms. Of those tested, 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.
“These passengers will not be released into the general public,” federal health officials said. “Passengers who require acute medical treatment and hospitalization will be transported to health care facilities in California.”
For those who don’t test positive, they will be broken up into four groups.
“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 California for testing and isolation,” federal health officials said. “Non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states.”
California officials released the breakdown of the quarantine sites.
“Nearly 1,000 passengers who are California residents will complete the mandatory quarantine at Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Naval Air Station, and residents of other states will complete the mandatory quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia,” state officials said. “Throughout the quarantine, passengers will be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.”
The 1,100 crew and 19 members with the illness will not be staying in Oakland.
“The crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, but importantly, the ship will only stay in Port of Oakland for the duration of disembarkment,” officials said. “This ship will depart Oakland as soon as possible and will remain elsewhere for the duration of the crew’s quarantine.”
Nearly all the passengers have had access to the internet since the cruise ship’s voyage was cut short after touring the Hawaiian islands. They are well aware of what happened aboard the Diamond Princess last month in Japan. The ship was quarantined in a port for several weeks and the illness spread rapidly, eventually infecting 704 people and killing four of them.
American passengers from that ill-fated voyage were airlifted to two military bases in the United States — Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. They were screened for any sign of the illness when they boarded and departed the flights. All were required to undergo at least a 14-day quarantine.
More than 30 passengers required hospitalization with nearly a dozen flown to Nebraska to be housed at a special bio-hazard unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.