Rex Lawson and his wife, Mardell, boarded the Grand Princess on Feb. 21 for what was supposed to be a 15-day cruise. But on Wednesday all ship activities were put on hold, and on Thursday passengers were told to quarantine themselves in their rooms, where they’ve been stuck ever since.
“We’re bored, we’re frustrated, we’d like to get off the ship,” passenger Lawson, 86, told SF Weekly on Saturday, via a scratchy telephone call that was prone to dropouts and lag. “I’m sitting here watching television 24 hours a day.”
The Grand Princess cruise ship has been circling some 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco for days now, with no clear plan in sight, while authorities say they’re trying to find a “non-commercial port” where it can dock. Many of the 3,500 passengers were originally scheduled to disembark in San Francisco on Saturday, but officials say 19 crewmembers and two passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Neither of the Lawsons – nor two other couples they’re travelling with, who are confined in separate rooms – have developed any symptoms.
“If we have it, we may be in the incubation period where we don’t know yet,” Lawson says. If they were on land and developed symptoms, “we’d go to the hospital and we’d be okay. But if we’re on the ship, we’d probably die…They obviously don’t have the facilities to take care of all the sick people on the ship, they’re not set up for that kind of thing.”
Lawson says the primary source of information passengers have had is television news. Information they learn there is typically repeated sometime later by the captain over the intercom system.
But Lawson primarily blames the Trump administration and not the cruise line for their situation.
“The person I’m upset with is Trump,” Lawson says. “We need to get on shore, and we need Trump to stop spouting his mouth off…that people on the ship should not come to shore because it adds to his statistics.”
A day or two before the quarantine was imposed, a waiter who had been routinely serving them at their regular table in the dining room no longer appeared to be working. The couple presumes he fell ill.
“We don’t know what happened to him,” Lawson says. “We asked the people who were serving us at the time, and I would say, ‘What happened to [our old waiter]?’ And they would say they didn’t know.”
Since being quarantined, meals have been left outside their door. Crewmembers aren’t permitted to enter passenger cabins.
Quarantined in a separate cabin, 76-year-old Allen Stobaugh said he also wants to get off the ship – but only if he and his wife, Mary, are allowed to go back to their home outside Santa Cruz and not forced to stay in a hospital.
“If I have to be quarantined either here or in a hospital somewhere, I would rather be on the ship,” Allen Stobaugh says.
“We would rather be self-quarantined at home – that would be the first choice,” Mary Stobaugh says.
Neither Allen nor Mary Stobaugh have developed symptoms, although they’ve been seated at dinner with a passenger who fell ill, and who they haven’t been able to speak with since the quarantine went into effect.
Allen Stobaugh says the cruise line has offered passengers $300 for their inconvenience.
“The cruise company needs to reimburse us for the whole cruise, 100 percent of it,” Allen Stobaugh says. “We don’t know how much longer we’re going to be here, and it’s been a pretty traumatic experience.”
Allen Stobaugh says the couple paid somewhere around $2,000 each for the cruise.
On Saturday, a Coast Guard cutter removed a 70-year-old woman and her husband from the Grand Princess for a medical emergency unrelated to the coronavirus, officials said.
The ship may dock on Monday, according to published reports, but no plan has been announced for what will happen to the more than 3,500 remaining passengers.