OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Most of the 2,000-plus passengers stuck aboard the coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess were still awaiting their orders to get off the boat at the Port of Oakland Tuesday as hundreds were processed before beginning a mandated 14-day quarantine before they will be allowed to return to their homes.
Princess Cruise officials confirmed a total of 1,406 people were disembarked from the Grand Princess as of Tuesday evening.
More than 170 of those passengers are US citizens. Nearly 150 were transported by bus Monday to a quarantined facility at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, while 24 were taken via ambulance.
Three other buses were filled and driven to Oakland International Airport for a flight or multiple flights to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas and or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia.
At an afternoon news conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said a handful of the priority of evacuations was “the most acute first, Californians second and non-Californians.”
“This is a very difficult time for you, another 14 days for many of you to be quarantined but it’s all about not only your safety and your family members and your community when you come back,” said Newsom.
26 cruise ship passengers were taken to hospitals in six different Bay Area counties for medical needs unrelated to COVID-19. But not all of them required further hospital care and some of them were taken to motels and hotels in Burlingame, San Carlos and in Monterey County.
“These [hotels] are 100 percent secure, 100 percent segregated from the general public. These are secure not only when it come to security, but from a protocol perspective and processing perspective,” said Newsom. “Perhaps some of the most safest sites in the community.”
234 Canadian passengers disembarked from the cruise ship on Monday and were taken to a chartered flight that brought them back to their native country, while two Canadian passengers transported via ambulance to area hospitals for treatment.
Officials said they hope to have another at least 800 passengers off the Grand Princess by Tuesday evening.
San Mateo resident Maureen James told KPIX 5 on Monday while her home is less than 30 miles away, her life there is on hold for at least another two weeks.
“My husband just started a brand new job. We already took two weeks with no pay, because his job had closed and he got a new job before we left,” said James. “We’ve hopeful. We’ve got the tags. They have our suitcases.”
But James and her husband are among the lucky ones on board, isolated in a roomy suite on the Grand Princess.
The surreal view off their balcony reveals the medical tents that have been set up to help test possible coronavirus patients.
“We’ve all been with people that have been exposed to it,” she said.
But before passengers leave the ship they will be screened by health care workers. Only passengers who have symptoms or risk factors are getting the actual coronavirus test.
James says she was given a choice to take the test for the coronavirus. When asked if she was going to take it, James responded, ”Absolutely, I think anybody that’s been exposed to the virus should be tested for it.”
James received a letter in the morning detailing the next steps. On the second page, passengers were given a choice to test for the virus. If positive, they would be quarantined until they were no longer a risk to the public. But why was it a choice for passengers on a coronavirus stricken ship?
Dr. Erica Pan, an Alameda County Health Officer explained why.
“We do not have enough testing capacity both in public health labs and and even commercial labs are getting up and running as we speak. And I think we will have more lab testing as a state and as a nation in the near future. But right now, there are not unlimited to do testing.”
Monica Achter recorded video with her phone during one of her few trips outside of her cabin recently days.
“It’s kind of been a really exciting adventure and we have front row seats to it,” Achter said during a Facetime interview.
She has no windows in her tiny cabin. She and her friend are just trying to make the best of it.
“Our neighbors across the hall who have a balcony room opened their door and we were able to look out and see the sunshine and feel a little bit of air come in,” explained Achter. “It was really sweet.”
Achter’s positive attitude about the ship quarantine extends to how she still feels about cruising.
“Oh, I will cruise again. I’m excited for the next one,” said Achter.
As far as COVID-19 testing, the California Office of Emergency Services said only passengers who have symptoms or risk factors were receiving the coronavirus test. Other passengers were simply being screened when they get off the ship, getting their temperature taken and questioned by health care workers.
Officials said it may be 2-3 days before all of the more than 2,000 passengers exit the ship. The process begins with a knock on the stateroom door and when the door is open, luggage tags and a departure note is there. The note tells the passenger what color coded group they are members of and ask that they be ready to immediate depart with one carry-on when their color is announced over the public address system.
Randy Elkin and Kathleen Duchene are from Minnesota and still confined to their stateroom.
“Just as soon as we left Hawaii (on the return trip to the Bay Area) we were kept off the walking deck because of really bad weather,” Elkin told KPIX 5 in a phone interview. “So it’s more like 8 or 9 days where we’ve been cooped up. No exercise. So it’s getting to be a little big wearing.
And they still don’t know when their ordeal on the boat will be coming to an end.
“We have absolutely no idea,” Duchene said. “We haven’t received any notification or luggage tags indicating when we will be cycled out.”
Elkin said details around the deboarding process seem to be in a state of flex.
“We heard of so many conflicting stories,” he said. “It changes almost daily.”
Another passenger took to social media to voice her mounting frustrations.
“These pissed off people are still on the ship,” she posted. “We packed, they took our luggage since we were only allowed a single carry-on per person.
Sat in the lobby for hours, no food, no liquid … To be told the government can’t figure out how to load a bus.”
Beryl Ward was aboard the ship along with Carolyn Wright. They are traveling together, both in their 60s and from Santa Fe.
“We’re trying to stay calm and were trying to stay positive but it’s getting harder and harder,” Ward told the Associated Press. “They can’t make up their minds how to keep us safe.”
Wright looked out her cabin window and watched the passengers being offload on Monday.
“They were queuing up the passengers like cattle,” Wright said. “Everybody was bunched up. They were physically touching each other and they were backed up along the gangplank.”
“I’m just totally freaked out by that,” she continued. “It’s outrageous. If that’s safe, then why were we stuck in our rooms? It’s been stressed for the past five days that we’re not to have any contact with any other passengers?”
Others, like Elizabeth Aleteanu, seem to still be patiently waiting that final knock on the door.
“Earlier this evening someone came to our cabin in a white biohazard type suit and asked us about symptoms,” she posted on Facebook. “They left and besides retrieving dinner from the door, and that’s the last contact with actual people we’ve had. I feel bad for the people who are alone in the cruise. I have my kids to scold, husband to, show funny posts to…what about them? Hopefully tomorrow brings more joy.”
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COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
The ordeal for the passengers and crew aboard the Grand Princess began about a week ago. Many passengers from a previous voyage — a roundtrip journey from San Francisco to Mexico on Feb. 11-21 — began to fall ill with the virus and when one died — a 71-year-old Rocklin man — cruise officials ordered the ship to forgo its final stop in Mexico and return to San Francisco.
Newsom refused to allow the Grand Princess to dock in California until tests were administered to 45 passengers and crew aboard exhibiting flu-like symptoms. The ship was ordered to maintain a holding pattern off the San Francisco coast where it remain sailing a looping course for nearly five days. All passengers were confined to their quarters. Tests eventually revealed 19 crew members and two passengers were positive for the coronavirus.
Late Saturday night, state and federal officials agreed to allow the ship to dock in Oakland on Monday and the lengthy deboarding process began at the dock within the busy commercial Port Of Oakland.
“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.”
Anne Makovec and Juliette Goodrich contributed to this story.