Drifting in circles for days off the coast of California, 42 passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship infected by a coronavirus outbreak are wondering when they can return to Minnesota.
The latest information from the captain is the ship would be docking in Oakland sometime Monday, Lynn Fuchs, 64, of Big Lake, said in a phone interview Sunday.
“People are getting frustrated and upset,” she said, calling the situation ridiculous.
She and her husband, Steve, are among 3,500 passengers stranded aboard the mammoth cruise ship, which had been forbidden to dock in San Francisco amid evidence that the vessel was the breeding ground for a cluster of nearly 20 cases that resulted in at least one death after a previous voyage.
It’s also linked to Minnesota’s first COVID-19 case. A Ramsey County resident who was aboard last month is recovering at home in isolation. State health officials have since reached out to another 26 passengers from Minnesota who disembarked from that cruise in San Francisco on Feb. 21, the same day the Fuchses went on board.
Minnesota confirmed a second case on Sunday tied to a Carver County resident who traveled to Europe last month.
The Fuchses’ ship was heading from Hawaii to San Francisco when it was held off the California coast Wednesday so people with symptoms could be tested for the virus.
The Fuchses say they feel like prisoners, but remain physically healthy. They worry about whether the crew members preparing and delivering their food are healthy. Their only social contact: commiserating with other nearby passengers from their balcony.
On Sunday morning, Steve Fuchs, 67, watched from their balcony — a key source of fresh air for the couple — as the Coast Guard arrived in hazmat suits to deliver medication and pick up an ill passenger.
“Apparently the perception is we are … a hazard,” he said. While in restricted isolation, he has been able to talk to Darlene and Jerry Judd, a couple from Coon Rapids, via their balconies. Both couples are frustrated by not knowing where they will be placed after they get off the ship or when they’ll be allowed to return home. Lynn Fuchs said the days of isolation won’t go toward the recommended 14-day incubation.
The captain told passengers Sunday that those who need medical treatment or hospitalization will go to health care facilities in California, while California residents who don’t require acute medical care “will go to a federally operated isolation facility within California for testing and isolation.”
U.S. guests from other states will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states. Crew members will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship.
The Fuchses are both retired, so they aren’t worried about getting back to work. It’s their fourth cruise, and Steve Fuchs said it’s likely their last.
Passengers have been advised to stay in their cabins as the ship circles around in the Pacific Ocean at 9 to 10 knots.
The ship’s shops, restaurants and other amenities are all closed. Steve Fuchs said the situation is far worse for passengers in inside cabins with no windows and no outside space.
The situation is taking a toll on their psyche. Lynn Fuchs said they’ve been made to feel guilty — and to feel that Oakland is doing them a big favor by allowing them to get off there.
“I feel like we’re lepers and we’re going to infect the whole world,” she said Sunday.
The Fuchses know that 19 crew members have tested positive, and they wonder what precautions are being taken by those who are preparing and delivering the meals. When Steve Fuchs confronted a delivery person who wasn’t wearing a mask, the person said the ship didn’t have enough.
“So what’s happening to our to our health while we’re waiting?” said Lynn Fuchs. “We feel like we’re in just as much jeopardy as if we were in San Francisco and walking around.”
Darlene Judd, 79, said she and her husband, age 81, planned the trip to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. They’ve been trying to pass time by watching TV and napping. She has tried to read, but it’s hard to concentrate.
“I’ve almost lost it because I know this probably won’t be over soon,” she said. “I just want to go home. I don’t care if I ever go anywhere again.”
Staff writers Jim Buchta and Mara Klecker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.