‘It Looks Like A War Zone’: Miami Passenger On Board Coronavirus-Stricken Grand Princess In California


OAKLAND (CBSMiami/CBS SF) — A cruise ship with a cluster of coronavirus cases that forced it to idle off the California coast for days finally docked at the Port of Oakland on Monday.

More than 2,000 passengers on the Grand Princess, including Miami’s Eddie Castellano, are disembarking under heavy military security. They will undergo medical examinations and then be transported to 14-day quarantine sites at four bases across the country.

“It’s been a nightmare the last few days,” Castellano told our sister station KPIX 5 in the telephone interview. “But today, I’m feeling great. I’m feeling hopeful that we finally after all these days I’m going to be able to get off this ship.”

LISTEN TO CASTELLANO’S ENTIRE INTERVIEW HERE:

Looking out his window, Castellano said the dockside was filled with military personnel and ambulances.

“I see some military outside the ship right now,” he said. “I see a lot of military. I see a lot of ambulances… It looks like a war zone. I’m terrified. I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never been through something like this in my life before. I’m worried about the 3,000 people on this boat and their health.”

The Princess Cruises Grand Princess cruise sits docked in the port in Oakland, CA on March 09, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“We feel like we’re in prison,” said passenger Michael Kallman.

Kallman is a retired Broward Sheriff’s Office sergeant who lives in Davie.

“We feel fine. We feel OK. We feel good. We’re just depressed that we can’t get off the boat,” he added.

Their voyage began as a round-trip cruise of a lifetime from San Francisco to Hawaii and ended in an anxiety filled holding pattern off the Northern California coast while passengers and crew members with flu-like symptoms were given tests for the coronavirus. Of the 45 tested, 19 crew members and two passengers were diagnosed with the disease.

The ship remained off the coast over the weekend while officials decided on a suitable port where to dock it and disembark its passengers.

On Sunday night, the Coast Guard delivered seven federal health workers to the cruise liner along with some much needed medical supplies. The federal medical team then began to determine the medical status of the most acute or symptomatic cases onboard.

Officials said it may take 2-3 days before all the passengers are removed from the ship and tested.

Last week, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doctor and a four-person California National Guard medical team were lowered onto the ship. They tested 45 people who were suffering from flu-like symptoms. Of those tested, 19 crew members and two passengers tested positive for the coronavirus.

“These passengers will not be released into the general public,” federal health officials said. “Passengers who require acute medical treatment and hospitalization will be transported to health care facilities in California.”

For those who don’t test positive, they will be broken up into four groups.

“If passengers do not require acute medical care following health screenings, those who are California residents will go to a federally-run isolation facility within California for testing and isolation,” federal health officials said. “Non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states.”

California officials released the breakdown of the quarantine sites.

“Nearly 1,000 passengers who are California residents will complete the mandatory quarantine at Travis Air Force Base and Miramar Naval Air Station, and residents of other states will complete the mandatory quarantine at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland in Texas or Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia,” state officials said. “Throughout the quarantine, passengers will be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.”

The 1,100 crew and 19 members with the illness will not be staying in Oakland.

“The crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship, but importantly, the ship will only stay in Port of Oakland for the duration of disembarkment,” officials said. “This ship will depart Oakland as soon as possible and will remain elsewhere for the duration of the crew’s quarantine.”

Nearly all the passengers have had access to the internet since the cruise ship’s voyage was cut short after touring the Hawaiian islands. They are well aware of what happened aboard the Diamond Princess last month in Japan. The ship was quarantined in a port for several weeks and the illness spread rapidly, eventually infecting 704 people and killing four of them.

American passengers from that ill-fated voyage were airlifted to two military bases in the United States — Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. They were screened for any sign of the illness when they boarded and departed the flights. All were required to undergo at least a 14-day quarantine.

More than 30 passengers required hospitalization with nearly a dozen flown to Nebraska to be housed at a special bio-hazard unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.