For the entire cruise aboard the Grand Princess — to Hawaii and back — passengers have relied on the crew for everything: to prepare their meals, pour them drinks, make their beds. And now, a day after being confined to their rooms as the ship circles 40 miles off the San Francisco shore, they learned Friday that 19 crew members have tested positive for coronavirus.
“Here we are trapped on this ship with them,” said Kristian Riese, a 47-year-old pilot from Georgia who is on the Grand Princess with his girlfriend and his elderly parents. “What are we dealing with here? They need to get us off this boat.”
Just when and where the more than 2,500 passengers and more than 1,100 crew members will dock is uncertain. Vice President Mike Pence announced Friday that the ship, which was originally scheduled to dock in San Francisco on Saturday, will instead be directed to a “noncommercial port” sometime this weekend. But whether travelers will be able to get off the ship and when is still in question.
And it’s making passengers nervous.
“I have a feeling this is going to be diamond 2.0,” passenger Shellie Chapman wrote in a Facebook message Friday, referring to the coronavirus outbreak last month on the Diamond Princess that infected more than 1,700 passengers and crew as they were quarantined onboard for two weeks off the coast of Japan.
The anxiety had been building on the ship since Wednesday, when passengers from the previous voyage to Mexico on the same ship were diagnosed with coronavirus after they disembarked. One of them, an elderly Placer County man, died, making him the first virus-related death in California. Crew members and some passengers from the Mexico trip remained onboard for the Hawaii excursion. Some came down with flu-like symptom and were quarantined. That’s when the captain began cancelling group activities onboard. He closed the casino and cancelled the art auction and bingo.
By Thursday, helicopter crews were delivering test kits to 46 passengers and crew and — after the lunch buffet was cut short — the captain remanded all the passengers to their staterooms and told them to stay put.
“We feel like prisoners,” Chapman, a 54-year-old from Redding, said in an online interview. “We are being treated as such.”
She’s been escaping from her room at night to get fresh air and a smoke.
Suzanne Suwanda, a musician from Los Gatos, had tried to remain “cheerful” during the confinement. But after she learned from the media instead of the captain Friday that 19 crew members and 2 passengers had tested positive, she became annoyed.
“They didn’t handle that well, did they?” Suwanda said. “I have really lost confidence in the government to handle this smoothly.”
She’s also frustrated that only 46 passengers and crew were tested for the virus. “How ridiculous is it that all the (passengers) couldn’t be tested YESTERDAY,” she said in a Facebook post.
Although she’s confident she must have been exposed to the virus on board, she believes “my risk of serious illness is small.”
The Grand Princess set sail on Feb. 21 for a trip to Hawaii and a stop in Ensenada, Mexico, on the way back to San Francisco. This was supposed to be a 15-night cruise filled with samba classes and culinary demonstrations, imbibing at the ship’s Salty Dog gastropub and indulging in “chocolate journeys.”
Instead, passengers have been stuck in their rooms since Thursday, eating — as one passenger posted on Instagram — “cold boxed eggs, cold potatoes, no salt and pepper, NO COFFEE.”
Until plans are made for the stranded passengers, they will continue to be at the mercy of the crew. They are delivering three meals a day to each stateroom, leaving trays outside the doors and knocking. On Friday afternoon, the captain asked passengers to fill out forms in case they needed prescriptions filled — an ominous sign that their quarantine could continue for some time.
It’s all unnerving for Riese, the pilot traveling with his parents, including his 79-year-old mother whom he considers “frail.”
Although he doesn’t know what kinds of jobs the infected crew had on board, he is sure that other crew members must have been exposed to the sick ones.
“You don’t know who else has it or is coming down with it, and those are the people we are now forced to rely on to deliver us food and bring us towels,” Riese said. “We’re having to depend on this crew. That’s a little disconcerting.”
Coronavirus: Grand Princess passenger says ‘They need to get us off this boat’