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Cruise Ship, With Coronavirus Patients, To Dock In California


Today, the Grand Princess is finally scheduled to dock. This is the cruise ship that has sat with more than 3,000 passengers and crew aboard off the coast of San Francisco. Greg Rafanelli and his wife are passengers on this ship. We spoke with him yesterday shortly after he got word that they might be able to leave their rooms and go up on deck for a little while.

GREG RAFANELLI: If we get out on deck, they're going to let the people that have interior rooms out first. They've been, you know, just staring at four walls for the last 48 hours. We at least have a window - large window to look out of. And then, of course, many people have balconies, so they can get some fresh air.

GREENE: We should say 21 people on board have tested positive for coronavirus, and a California man from a previous voyage on this ship died last week.

NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Oakland monitoring all of this. Hi there, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So explain what is going to happen with this ship, where it's going to dock and what's going to happen once it does.

WESTERVELT: Well, the plan now, David, is for the Grand Princess to temporarily dock later today - sometime later today; we're not sure when - in the Port of Oakland. They want to get passengers off and put them in a two-week quarantine. You know, but it's a pretty complex logistical, as well as health and safety task to, you know, get these thousands of passengers safely onshore. They're from many states, from 50 countries. They got to prepare the port. They got to get all the secure transport set up, both planes and buses. This is a huge ship. And this port, you know, is for commercial shipping, not for passengers. So they've got a lot of work to do.

And passengers, you know, undergoing urgent medical care are going to be the first priority to get off. And Californians are going to come off, and they'll be taken to one of two military bases - one north, one south - depending on where they're from. Other U.S. citizens are going to be taken to bases in Georgia and Texas. All will undergo a two-week quarantine. And then there are hundreds of foreign passengers. The State Department's helping to get chartered flights for them. Canada is sending a plane to collect 200 of its citizens. You know, all of this, David, is going to take a couple days or more.

GREENE: Yeah, what an operation.

WESTERVELT: It all has to be done - yeah - with a lot of care and following all these safety protocols. And on Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom acknowledged the fear and anxiety many passengers must be feeling.


GAVIN NEWSOM: We'll have you home soon. And I know that this is a very difficult time for you - another 14 days for many of you to be quarantined. But it's all about not only your safety, but your family members and your community when you come back home.

WESTERVELT: And, David, the ship's crew - and as we heard from the intro clip, you know, it's been tough on passengers. It's been hard on the crew, too. They've been working super hard. And they're going to be quarantined and treated on board the ship, but it's not clear yet where the ship will ultimately dock for that crew quarantine. But Governor Newsom said it would not be in Oakland.

GREENE: What else are we hearing from more passengers, Eric, about what this has all been like going through this?

WESTERVELT: Well, it's been tough. I mean, most of them are confined to their room for most of the time. They're getting meals delivered in sort of almost prison-style - a knock on the door and you get the tray (laughter). For many, there's, you know, frustration that they're not getting information in real time, that they're, you know, hearing it through the media mostly, details about what's going to happen. You know, they're cooped up. They went on a cruise to relax. It's turned into this nightmare. I mean, people we talked to on board have all say, though, that the crew has been terrific, that they're keeping people, you know, comfortable and well-fed. And there's plenty of booze on board.

We talked with passenger Debbi Loftus from Germantown, Wis. She's 61. She went on a cruise with her parents.

DEBBI LOFTUS: We're just very anxious to get back home and get on with our lives. We've already been gone for 16 days from our lives. So, you know, we have mail piling up. And a lot of us have cars that are parked at hotels. It's just things like that - everyday life - that we want to get back to. We've been on the ship, and we're ready to get back onto solid ground.

WESTERVELT: And, David, Ms. Loftus told us her parents, who are with her, are doing fine. But, you know, in the back of her mind, she worries about them. They're older, and she's concerned.

GREENE: Sure. All right. NPR's Eric Westervelt reporting on the latest from Oakland, Calif. Thanks, Eric.

WESTERVELT: You bet, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.