Standing on the balcony of her Grand Princess cruise ship cabin, Thea Fleming asked what day it is.
“Let’s see … Today is what day? Wednesday?” the Federal Way resident said, taking a moment to count the days of confinement. “Today will be going on day eight.”
Twenty-one people on board the Grand Princess tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week, leaving more than 2,400 passengers and 1,000 crew members on board in a limbo of uncertainty.
Fleming, along thousands of others, have been quarantined on the cruise ship after several crew and passengers were found to have the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, 1,406 people had disembarked from the ship, leaving at least 1,000 still on board, according to USA Today.
Just over 407 individuals disembarked the ship on Monday, including two travelers who tested positive for coronavirus, USA Today reported. According to a Princess Cruises press release, the two, and their travel companions, were taken to hospitals while 19 crew members who have tested positive “have been deemed asymptomatic” and remain on the ship in isolated cabins.
Health and human services teams have been on board the Grand Princess to assist with medical screenings and interviews and have prioritized those who require the most medical attention and care, USA Today reported.
“We’re confined to our rooms,” Fleming said; she and her husband planned this trip a year-and-a-half in advance.
Fleming, 40, and her husband Mick, 58, boarded the cruise ship on Feb. 21 in San Francisco, prepared for a 16-day round trip to the islands of Hawaii.
The ship was supposed to return on March 7.
Now, 19 days later, the Flemings and hundreds more passengers are quarantined on the ship docked in Oakland, California, with no idea when they’ll be off the ship.
“When we got off the island on Sunday night — a week ago — we hit a bad storm for two days, which was pretty rocky,” she said. “Once we got out of the storm, that’s when everything hit the news about how we were all going to be confined to our rooms and a bunch of people were quarantined.”
The news of the COVID-19 cases on board broke on March 4 and passengers were confined on Thursday, March 5.
“We have no symptoms, we’re very healthy,” Fleming said of her and Mick’s conditions. The couple has not been tested for the virus yet, although they were informed that their temperatures will be taken once they are removed from the ship.
From there, disembarked cruise passengers will be transported to military bases around the country for coronavirus testing and additional quarantine.
Eleven of Fleming’s family members, all from Wisconsin, are also aboard the ship.
Some family members were removed from the boat March 10 to be taken to a military base in Texas for COVID-19 testing, but were re-routed to San Diego where they will remain in quarantine for an additional 14 days.
All of her 11 family members are healthy too, Fleming said.
“Looks like we’re all being split up,” she said. “Some family members were taken off yesterday, some were taken off today … It looks like we’re possibly going to different bases.”
Disembarkment papers were delivered to the Flemings Wednesday morning and “now we just sit here all day and wait for our [luggage] tag color and number to be called when the CDC is ready for us.”
List of possible bases they’ll be transported to include some California sites, such as the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, and others such as the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas and Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.
“There’s a bunch of Washingtonians on here,” Fleming said, noting one couple from La Center and another from Vancouver.
Another couple on the cruise reached out to Gov. Jay Inslee to request being transported to Washington state military bases, rather than out-of-state sites.
They have not heard back from the governor’s office yet, Fleming said.
“It’s kind of boring … very boring,” Fleming said with a laugh. Cruise passengers have been given playing cards, other crafts, and unlimited movies and internet access to connect with loved ones back home. “You try to keep yourself busy.”
Throughout the misadventure, Grand Princess captain and crew members have been “excellent,” Fleming said. “They have been sharing as much information as the CDC and the government have been giving them.”
The cruise crew members have been working very hard with little rest, she added. Groups of passengers are taken to get fresh air throughout the day and all passengers are required to wear face masks and use hand sanitizer at nearly every doorway.
Crew members wear gloves and masks, and when not assisting the passengers, staff are cleaning the ship.
While the Flemings planned for an extended vacation, she said, they did not plan for additional quarantine days. With these forced extensions, Fleming, who works for the Boeing Company in Auburn, said she has been given a 14-day quarantine pay. Her husband, who works for cookie and cracker manufacturing company Mondelez International/Nabisco Foods in Kent, was told by the state to file for unemployment.
“It’s kind of hard to do everything, our service isn’t great,” she said. “To do anything on the ship or wherever we end up, I have no idea how that’s going to work.”
While people have been helping the couple take care of things on the homefront in Washington, the uncertainty of their near future is the biggest worry, she said.
“That’s the only thing that is upsetting is just not knowing what’s going to happen, where we’re going to go, what they’re going to do,” she said. “It’s all a question mark really.”
To remedy the unforeseen disaster, Grand Princess offered passengers a full refund for the cruise, Fleming said, and also offered a 100% expenses covered cruise trip in the future.
Fleming and her husband — along with “many other passengers” — said they will definitely be taking the Princess Cruises company up on the offer in the future.
Exploring the islands of Hawaii and the first half of the trip was incredible, Fleming said, and their cruise cabin didn’t feel small until it was the only place they were allowed to go.
“It really has never felt too small, even when we first arrived, until we became confined … now it feels a little small,” she said of the roughly 10-foot-by-16-foot room with a balcony.
Other cruise passengers don’t have the luxury of access to the outdoors.
Fleming’s sister, her husband and their two kids, are in a room with only a small porthole window that does not open. They’ve found ways to do workouts, make forts with sheets and pillows, and the kids have been choreographing impromptu cabin performances.
“[They’ve] been going crazy,” Fleming said. “… But they’re making the best of it.”
Fleming said they are hoping to be let off the ship today.
“I don’t want to do any more days of this [confinement],” she said with a strained laugh. “… Not what I expected out of a vacation.”