After days in coronavirus limbo, the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at the Port of Oakland on Monday -- and suddenly the city found itself at the center of a public health emergency.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said aggressive steps have been taken to get the passengers off the boat without jeopardizing public health. Most will eventually be sent to two California military bases.
Oakland resident Carol Stone, 68, a retired foundation manager, was glad the city opened its port to the ship.
“They need to get off the ship and get some medical attention,” she said.
But others expressed concerns and questioned why working-class Oakland was chosen.
Jen Izeck, 51, a medical social worker who has lived in Oakland for more than 20 years, said docking the ship in Oakland was “not great.”
“I think part of the reason Oakland gets this and where this ship is docking is because West Oakland is historically low-income with lots of minorities who will not give a lot of pushback,” she said. “I think it was a purposeful decision to dock in West Oakland. It is unfortunate they don’t have more of a voice in this, that Oakland doesn’t have more of voice.”
Clint Carter, a programmer who works in Jack London Square, also questioned why Oakland was chosen to host the ship.
“They didn’t put them over in Mill Valley,” he said, referring to the affluent city in Marin County.
Carter said the spread of the virus, particularly on cruise ships, was “just terrifying.”
“The federal leadership we have now, I have no confidence in them,” he said. Carter said his employer subsidizes employees for riding BART, but he has stopped taking it because of fear of contagion. He is now driving to work, he said. He gave his age as “over 50.” Andrew Igmatenko, 60, an engineer who also works near Jack London Square, said he supported the decision to allow the ship to dock in Oakland.
“They need help,” he said. “They couldn’t live in the ocean. They have to land somewhere.”
He said he presumed the government would take precautions to prevent the virus from moving from the ship into the community, but he wasn’t sure the authorities could be trusted.
“But what can I do?” he said. “I rely on them.” Matthew Guion, 37, a documentary maker, came to Jack London Square on Monday to take video of the cruise ship but it could not be seen from the tourist attraction.
“I am more concerned with getting human beings help than with the president’s agenda of keeping the numbers down,” he said. “What if you were on that ship or you had family members on that ship?”
Newsom and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sought to reassure residents and port workers Sunday that officials were taking every precaution to protect them from infection using “best isolation practices.”
“I’ve been clear with our state and federal partners,” she said. “This is a community that has suffered decades of environmental racism and injustice.”
But she added: “We have to not let our fears dictate or impede our humanity.”
Newsom said authorities had assessed numerous ports, and initially planned to direct the ship to the former Naval Air Station Alameda. But “silting issues” made it hazardous for the large ship to dock there, he said, and San Francisco’s port was too close to residential and tourist zones.
Jessica Barraza, 50, who was visiting Jack London Square from Sacramento, said she kept smelling whiffs of bleach in the wind. She wondered if the odor was coming from the port where the ship was to dock. Andre Sanchez, 50, a valet at a watefront hotel, said many people think it was not right to dock the ship in Oakland, but “they have the right.”
The passengers on the cruise ship must be “desperate,” he said.