Many Princess Cruise Passengers Released Without COVID-19 Tests

Amidst confusion and last-minute changes to guidelines, more than 800 return home not knowing whether they carry the deadly virus

After spending two weeks in quarantine, passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship are finally returning home – but they’re receiving conflicting information about their COVID-19 test results, passengers told SF Weekly.

The cruise ship circled for days off the San Francisco coast as officials decided on a course of action. On March 9, it was permitted to dock in Oakland at an isolated berth, and passengers were transferred to one of four military bases throughout the country for mandatory quarantine.

“We spent 14 days there, and I never got the results of my test,” says 65-year-old passenger JoEtta Harrington, who lives in Oakland, and was sent to Travis Air Force Base for quarantine. “I was so frustrated.”

Harrington says passengers were told testing was optional, but if they tested positive they would not be permitted to leave the military base. “Many people did not want to stay on the base longer than they had to” and declined the test, she says.

But that changed Saturday, when on a daily conference call with passengers, officials said people who were still awaiting test results would be permitted to leave, after all.

“CDC changed their guidelines, and we follow the CDC guidelines,” says a spokesperson for Health and Human Services, the federal agency responsible for running the quarantine.

The spokesperson says tests are being conducted by LabCorp and results are available in two to five days.

But Harrington was tested seven days ago, on March 17, and was still waiting for her results when she left Travis Air Force Base this morning.

“I am not comfortable leaving Travis without the results,” she says, but was told she didn’t have a choice.

Harrington also says she was given conflicting information as to how she would receive her results.

“I was first told I could call the CDC,” she says. “Then I was told I would receive a letter, sent to my home.”

The HHS spokesperson says passengers who left quarantine before results were available will be contacted by phone, when possible, or by email. The spokesperson declined to comment on specific cases or instances where passengers were told to call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for results.

Passengers Rex Lawson and his wife, Mardell, from outside Santa Cruz, were quarantined at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

“They let us out at about 10 o’clock this morning,” Rex Lawson told SF Weekly on Friday, while grabbing lunch at an In-N-Out Burger on his way back home. “We’re driving. We had the option of flying, if we wanted to.”

Both Rex and Mardell Lawson decided to be tested. By the time they left quarantine, in an Avis rental car, Mardell’s results had come back negative but Rex was still waiting to hear his results. He says they were told to expect results by mail at home. 

“I oscillated back and forth about whether I wanted to be tested,” Rex Lawson says. “I don’t know if it was to my advantage or disadvantage – and probably in the end it didn’t make a difference.”

According to HHS figures, approximately 900 passengers decided to take the test, while some 820 passengers declined.

The department could not immediately say how many of those tests were still pending, or how many positive results had been returned.

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