By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Laura and Don Davis, two former passengers of a coronavirus-stricken ocean liner now quarantined on a California military base, have little to do to pass the time but watch TV, play cards and – they add half-jokingly – avoid arguments.
But more frustrating to the Modesto, California-based couple than the boredom, the stagnant indoor air, the lack of clean towels or their missing luggage has been what they describe as an almost complete lack of communication from their caretakers.
“We’re not being given any information. We’re being told next to nothing,” Don Davis, 53, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, said during a FaceTime interview from the couple’s second-floor room.
His wife, Laura, 51, a hospital intensive care unit nurse, said she was most appalled by a “fiasco” of haphazard germ-control measures she observed during their transit from the ship to the quarantine site at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and after their arrival there.
Overall, the two say their treatment has shown a lack of sympathy and competence on the part of their custodians.
Asked about the couple’s complaints, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement that the quarantine operation “raised many significant logistical challenges.”
She said HHS held a “telephonic town hall” with nearly 300 of those under quarantine on Friday night, and had assigned case managers to “each of the guests to individually address their needs.”
“We recognize this has been a stressful experience and we remain dedicated to providing all the support we can do passengers,” the spokeswoman said.
A base spokesman, Captain Matthew Gregory, said separately that the military was “providing the facility to host the quarantine,” and HHS and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are “responsible for the care of those who are traveling through on their way home.”
The Davis couple were among some 2,400 passengers of the cruise ship Grand Princess whose vacation voyage to Hawaii ended in quarantine earlier this week after a coronavirus outbreak was detected aboard the vessel.
CRUISE GOES AWRY
The ship, also linked to a dozen coronavirus cases from an earlier cruise to Mexico, was barred last Wednesday, March 4, from returning to its home port in San Francisco when a number of passengers and crew reported flu-like symptoms.
Diagnostic kits were flown by helicopter to the ship, and 21 people aboard – mostly crew – tested positive. Federal, state and local officials then arranged for the Grand Princess to dock temporarily at the Port of Oakland.
It finally arrived on March 9, but the Davis couple did not get off the boat for two more days. Having packed, as instructed, just enough clothes and toiletries for 24 hours, Don and Laura Davis and his elderly parents shuttled on buses to Oakland International Airport. They ended up among 480 people flown to Miramar, near San Diego.
Laura Davis said it appeared that personnel working under the auspices of HHS and escorting them from the ship to the base were poorly trained and ill-equipped. She recounted seeing workers in full protection suits moving among the passengers, touching each one in succession, as well as their belongings, without changing gloves in between, as they should.
As of Friday, passengers were still wearing “the same dirty, contaminated” surgical-style face masks they were issued aboard the ship nine days earlier, she said, noting that as an ICU nurse she changes face masks every 30 minutes while on duty.
Her husband said that when they asked for fresh face masks, which they are required to wear whenever they answer the door or step outside, he was told the available supplies “are for the emergency workers, not for us.”
The room itself and packaged meals are adequate, but creature comforts are in short supply, the couple said. A single blanket with the texture of “400-grit sandpaper” was left in the closet for the two beds, Don Davis said. They scrounged a couple more but they were “tissue-paper thin.”
What little instruction they have received is often contradictory. Initially ordered to remain confined to quarters for the first 48 hours of their stay, the Davis couple missed dinner on the second night, and breakfast the next day. Only when they called the front desk to inquire were they told they were supposed to come downstairs to retrieve their meals.
The couple said they were told they would be permitted some fresh air on the hotel grounds after 72 hours, but must keep their masks on while outdoors.
In the meantime, they said, the only information about their quarantine was provided in a packet of HHS material they were handed with the keys to their room upon arrival.
As of Friday, they had not been interviewed, examined or checked for fever. The last time their temperatures were taken was before getting off the airplane that flew them to Miramar, they said. No mention has been made of getting tested for coronavirus.
Showing no signs or symptoms of illness, the two said they have effectively been quarantined since March 5, when all passengers were directed to be confined to their cabins aboard the ship.
“This is 10 days locked in a room with windows that don’t open and no fresh air,” Laura Davis said, lamenting the lack of fresh clothes or access to laundry facilities.
Her husband said he found the social isolation to be especially challenging. “It’s very difficult not to be around people,” he said. “We miss our family. We miss our kids.”
Once avid cruise-goers, the couple agreed the ordeal had fundamentally altered their view of ocean liners.
“We’ll most likely never getting on another cruise as long as we live,” she said.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Daniel Wallis)