Forty-two Minnesotans are among 3,500 passengers being kept in their rooms on the Grand Princess cruise ship now docked off Oakland, Calif., owing to the COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 19 crew members and two passengers.
Here are updates from some of those aboard the ship as they await a 14-day quarantine required by the federal government once they go ashore, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Pining for ‘normal food’
On Monday for the first time, Darlene Judd of Coon Rapids said passengers could see land as the ship pulled into the Port of Oakland. That was a relief from days of bobbing at sea with intermittent glimpses of California, she said.
Darlene, 79, and her husband, Jerry, have an 11th-deck room with a small balcony they could sit on to wave at nearby cargo ships. But midway through the day, Darlene Judd said no passengers had been taken off the ship.
She and her husband, who is 81, were feeling fine, passing the time on a sunny day, watching the ambulances and buses waiting on the shore and catching some TV.
“If we could just get better food, it would be a lot more pleasant,” she said. “They brought us food, but it was cold and I don’t know if I could get it down.”
Any snacks the couple brought on board for the trip are long gone. Judd said she had a banana for lunch and is already starting to plan the meals she will cook back at home. She’s thinking roast beef or a tried-and-true chicken recipe. “Just normal food,” she said.
“I’m really not blaming the cruise people,” she said. “They’re doing their darndest.”
Judd tried to be upbeat about the situation, but she has concerns. She and her husband take numerous medications for high blood pressure and cholesterol, and will soon run out. Judd said passengers have been surveyed about their medication needs, but she assumes those with life-threatening concerns will get their drugs first.
And she’s worried about the 14-day quarantine that’s coming up. “I don’t even know when we’ll get tested” for the coronavirus, she said.
This wasn’t the couple’s first cruise, but it may be their last, Judd said. “I’m not going to be in a hurry to get back on one,” she said.
Not the cruise they expected
Tim and Marie Kwosek, both 65, were on the cruise with another couple from their home near Winona, a belated gift to themselves for their retirement at the end of 2019.
“This was supposed to be one of these fun cruises,” Tim Kwosek quipped.
The Kwoseks have a state room with a balcony next to their friends and can communicate across the divider, they say.
“The people I feel sorry for are on the inside cabins with no visibility and no fresh air,” he said.
Kwosek said he, his wife and their friends are all healthy and happy to be docked in Oakland.
“The food is very good. The help is just amazing. These people are just going above and beyond,” Kwosek said.
They’re keeping busy reading and watching recently released movies the cruise line made available on TV.
But like others, he’s concerned what the coming quarantine will be like.
“Right now the cruise line has control of us,” he said. “Once we leave the ship, it’s the federal government.”
Passengers Kari and Paul Kolstoe of Grand Forks, N.D., have been interviewed by news outlets from across the globe because of her urgent need to get home for another cancer treatment.
“We’re getting closer,” Kari Kolstoe said upon learning she was talking to a reporter from Minneapolis, not far from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester overseeing her care.
Kolstoe, 60, and her husband, 61, went on the cruise as a break from 18 months of treatment for neuroendocrine cancer and caring for her husband’s terminally ill father. Her care team was ready to begin chemotherapy Monday.
“I was going to start treatment today. Instead, we’re in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare,” she said.
And yet she sounded relaxed. “It’s minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour,” Kolstoe said. “Fifteen minutes ago, I was crying.”
At 3 a.m. Monday, the couple opened their port room door to a man in a full Hazmat suit who said he was a physician. He inquired about their health for a priority list to unload passengers. Kolstoe said she gave him the full picture, but by late morning she learned she wasn’t one of those who would be taken off the ship Monday.
Once she is allowed to disembark, she faces the prospect of the 14-day quarantine, which she said was too long for her to wait for treatment for a disease that has consumed her liver, invaded her stomach and begun eating her spine.
“My prognosis is not good; it’s advancing quickly,” she said. “This is just surreal. But it is what it is.”
No appetite left
By early Monday afternoon the ship had docked in Oakland, much to the delight of Lynn and Steve Fuchs of Big Lake. They said they’d been told to pack but had not received the luggage tags indicating they would be leaving soon.
They’re healthy and happy to be in port, but wondered what the quarantine will look like.
“We don’t know where we’re going or what will happen when we get there,” Lynn Fuchs said. “Am I going to be able to walk out and get a diet Pepsi? We don’t know anything.”
Steve Fuchs said there was a flurry of activity on the dock. “They’ve got floodlights out there [on the dock], so maybe this is going to be a 24-hour event,” he said of the ship’s evacuation.
The couple said that the quality and quantity of the food had taken a nose-dive. “But who’s got an appetite?” Lynn Fuchs said.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747