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Anxiety, chardonnay and anger at Trump: Friday on a cruise line hit by coronavirus

Italy: A big ship with local roots
As of 1998, the Grand Princess was the largest cruise vessel ever built. It is now a top U.S. focus in containing the coronavirus outbreak.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

A day that started with hope ended with anger and frustration as passengers on the Grand Princess learned some on the ship tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the specter of a quarantine at sea.

More than 3,500 people are currently on the vessel, which is holding off the coast of San Francisco in international waters as officials decide where — or if — it should dock now that two passengers and 19 crew members have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are doing a bit of Trump bashing, having a glass of wine, trying to cancel airplane reservations, trying to figure out what to do with my dog and get her out of the kennel tomorrow, canceling hotel reservations for tomorrow night,” said Debbi Loftus, a Wisconsin passenger who is traveling with her elderly parents. “The normal stuff anyone does on a Friday afternoon.”

Loftus was not the only one unhappy with the administration. Vice President Mike Pence announced the positive cases during a news conference Friday afternoon, before passengers had been informed. The cruise line and the captain of the ship both later said they were unaware of the results prior to the televised announcement. Multiple passengers interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said they would have preferred the news be given to them first.

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Adding more uncertainty for some passengers was President Trump’s statement Friday that he would prefer any quarantine take place on the ship, rather than allowing passengers to dock in California — in part to prevent increasing the number of confirmed cases on U.S. soil. Pence said the vessel would be allowed to dock at a noncommercial port this weekend, though he did not say where.

“It’s apparent to me that President Trump is not concerned about the crew and passengers aboard Grand, but rather the numbers,” said Karen, a Canadian passenger who asked to be identified only by her first name for privacy reasons.

As passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship ended their first full day confined to their cabins, the reality of a possible quarantine began to set in, along with boredom and anxiety. Fears of the future were mixed with minor but immediate concerns.

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Food service has been delayed as an overburdened staff attempts to bring room service to more than 3,500 passengers. Coffee was late, one meal was sandwiches and chili, a few waited hours for delivery. The crew passed out forms asking what prescriptions might be needed if a long stay was mandated.

“We’re trying to stay positive and hoping for a great outcome,” said Karen, early in the day.

Her biggest frustration Friday morning was that room service, “understandably overloaded,” hadn’t yet brought coffee. She was passing time waiting on hold to report the missing java, watching the ship’s webcam on television so that she could “feel like I’m outside.”

The previous night, the captain told passengers they were working with the crew to arrange for “deck time for exercise and fresh air.”

Karen said hearing that “kinda scared us into thinking this may go on longer than expected.”

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Despite two updates from the captain during the day, there was little new information. Passengers played cards, watched movies and browsed the internet — multiple people said the broadband was limited. The crew dropped off Sudoku sheets, puzzles and a craft kit. Outdoor time never materialized.

“My take on this,” Karen said in the afternoon, is “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

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Another way some passengers spent time: cleaning. With no cleaning services coming in and a fear of germs in abundance, Karen tried to get a pair of gloves before cleaning her bathroom. Another passenger wiped down her walls. One washed clothes in the bathtub.

Those who spoke to The Times all agreed on one point: The crew was doing its best, delivering thousands of meals three times a day, answering requests and attempting to maintain the quarantine as anxiety mounts. Many of the crew members are Filipino or other foreign nationals, guests said.

“Our captain and crew [are] doing the best they can under such unforgiving conditions,” said Karen, the Canadian passenger.

About 62 people have been under lockdown longer because of possible exposure on the previous cruise to Mexico. For one of those, the experience was already feeling grim.

“I am in solitary,” said a person who has been isolated for days.

Now, there is worry that the end is not in sight.


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