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What’s Life Like Aboard a Cruise Ship Infected by Coronavirus?
By Elyse Notorianni

It was to be a fabulous vacation: a 2-week Princess cruise to Hawaii with a stop in Mexico on the return. Moorestown’s Karen and Harry Dever were seasoned cruise-goers – they’ve seen many parts of the world this way, and they love it. This would be one more vacation filled with lots of memories. And it was. Just not exactly the kind of memories they hoped for.

Toward the end of the vacation, as the ship was en route to Mexico, the Captain announced that they were now heading to San Francisco instead of Mexico. Later that evening, all events onboard were cancelled. And the next afternoon, the Devers were told to return to their cabin – and stay there.

Karen and Harry Dever spent 6 days in their cabin aboard the Princess cruise ship after a passenger from an earlier trip was diagnosed with coronavirus.

What the Devers weren’t told was that a passenger on the cruise right before theirs had contracted Coronavirus. He had died on the day their ship changed course.

Karen and Harry spent the next 6 days isolated in their cabin as the ship circled international waters outside San Francisco, waiting for permission from the United States to dock. Of 3,500 passengers on board, 21 tested positive for coronavirus while they were offshore.

When we spoke to Karen, she and Harry were still quarantined – this time at Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia. They had been isolated for 13 days, with at least 7 more to go.

How are you?

We’re hanging in there. So far, we have no signs of the virus. Mostly, we’re frustrated at not being able to control anything and not knowing what’s happening. Sometimes I try to deal with it through humor, other times I break down crying. I just can’t believe what’s happening. But I’m trying not to complain. We’re being fed. We’re as comfortable as we can be. We get outside. It could be worse.

What was it like on the ship?

We stayed in our cabin for 6 days. They brought us food, which wasn’t bad at first. But by the last 2 days, it was cold and horrible. We were lucky – we had a balcony, so we could get fresh air. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people in the inside cabins. We didn’t know what was going on. We learned of the Coronavirus death of the passenger from the previous cruise from TV.

 

What was it like to reach San Francisco?

When we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and realized we were back in the USA after days of floating in international waters, we were all extremely emotional. Everybody was out on their balconies screaming and hollering, clapping and jumping up and down. I never thought I’d experience anything like this – not being able to come back into my own country, especially when I hadn’t done anything wrong.

On the plane ride from San Francisco to Georgia, passengers wore masks and health officials wore hazmat suits.

What happened after you docked?

They let people off in groups, but we weren’t called until two days after we docked. We got off the boat and into a bus, but then a worker came back and said, “You have to get back on the ship and go to your rooms.” We were heartbroken. Another passenger asked what would happen if we refused, and the worker threatened to call the police. So we got back on the ship.

An hour and a half later, we were back on the bus. We took off for Georgia 8 hours after arriving at the airport. We were packed shoulder to shoulder on a tiny plane. We wore masks while government Health and Human Services workers walked around in full hazmat gear. It felt like we were in a plague.

What’s life like on the base?

We’re in a fenced-in compound with a triage type of setup in the center. There’s two-fifths of a mile concrete track that we can walk. We aren’t allowed to congregate, not that we have anywhere to congregate if we could. Anywhere the fencing is up against a public road, it’s covered in black netting so we can’t see out. We wear masks any time we leave the room. I know people are trying to do their best, but it’s hard.

We have a single room with a comfortable bed, a small refrigerator, a desk and an upholstered chair. There’s a second upholstered chair at the end of the hall outside our room, and I’m considering stealing it. We have teleconferences with the Health and Human Services workers at the base to keep us informed, but even when we’re able to ask questions, most of the time they don’t have answers.

It’s hard because it’s so disorganized. I have a friend who didn’t have her luggage and wore the same clothes for 5 days. A friend of mine at a different base went days without his heart medication, and a man here missed his chemo treatment.

 

What happens next?

We don’t know. Every state has different guidelines. They can allow us to return home and self-quarantine. They can test us, and if we’re negative, allow us to come home, or they can require us to maintain negative test results for 14 days before re-entering the state. To come home to New Jersey, we need to maintain negative test results for 14 days. We’re on day 13 total, but only day 6 at the base.

We don’t know how we’re getting home. We’d prefer not to fly, but we’re afraid if we drive, we’ll be stuck with limited access to food or they’ll close down state borders before we get home. What if we’re in Delaware, and New Jersey won’t let us in?

Karen and Harry Dever celebrate pulling into dock after 6 days in quarantine

 

Is this your last cruise?

Not necessarily. We already got our money back and a free cruise in the future. We love cruising. We’ve seen a lot of the world this way. It’s not the Princess’s fault this happened, and they did the best they could in a completely unprecedented circumstance. It’ll just be awhile before we take them up on it.

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