Feeling coronavirus ‘cabin fever,’ cruise passengers eager to land in California

Grand Princess cruise ship
The Grand Princess shown in June 1998. The cruise ship, which floated off the California coast amid the COVID-19 outbreak, will dock Monday at the Port of Oakland. Disembarking and transferring passengers will take up to three days, the governor says.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Stranded aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship stuck off the coast of San Francisco due to a coronavirus outbreak, Karen Spoon was getting frustrated.

“I’m starting to feel the effects of cabin fever,” she said Sunday.

But detailed plans to get people off the boat at the Port of Oakland as early as Monday made Spoon, from Canada, and others feel more optimistic for the first time in days.

After hearing a briefing in which the California governor said charter flights would repatriate her, Spoon said, “If that’s correct, then yippee!”


Gov. Gavin Newsom said Sunday he expected the operation to take up to three days, but emphasized that the situation was “fluid” and could take longer, in part because the port does not regularly deal with cruise ships and there would only be small windows of opportunity for it to enter the port, based on tides and currents.

After medical cases, California residents would be prioritized for disembarkation, and be taken to Travis Air Force Base in nearby Solano County to begin a 14-day quarantine.

Newsom said 12 positive cases of COVID-19 had been identified in passengers on the previous cruise, which went from San Francisco to Mexico, and included a Placer County man who later died of the coronavirus. The cruise line and California health officials have disagreed on whether the man contracted the illness on board or was infected before the journey.

The remaining American passengers will be sent to military bases in Texas and Georgia, while foreign passengers will be sent to their home countries via charter flights from Oakland International Airport. Newsom emphasized that those cruise passengers traveling by air would have no contact with regular travelers.

About 1,000 Californians are expected to go to Travis, with the remainder going to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

Debbie Loftus, a passenger from Wisconsin, said she was pleased Newsom spoke directly to passengers and thought the news conference, which she watched, represented a “change in attitude.”

“It is nice that he is now welcoming us into California; a few days ago he did not want us anywhere near his state,” Loftus said.

Matt LaGesse’s mother and aunt are on the ship, and he has been trying for days to get information, with little luck.

LaGesse said he was angered by the President Trump’s comments about potentially keeping passengers on board, and what he felt was a lack of planning and leadership around the crisis.

Despite details given by Newsom, he remained frustrated and uncertain about what would come next. LaGesse said he has not been contacted about the disembarkation plan by authorities or the cruise line.

“As a family member and son of a mom that I really, really love ... I’m scared and nervous and disappointed,” he said Sunday. “You expect your leadership ... to give you clear messaging so that you can understand the plan.”