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‘It’s a real mental exercise to keep your sanity’: Spokane couple remains under quarantine after leaving cruise ship

Nancy and David Holmes, a couple from Spokane, took a selfie with quarantine workers after disembarking from a cruise ship that was the site of a COVID-19 outbreak. (Courtesy)

After a week-long quarantine aboard the Grand Princess, Nancy and David Holmes are finally off the cruise ship, although their quarantine adventure appears far from over.

The Spokane couple’s cruise to Hawaii, which set out Feb. 21, went as planned until it was halfway across the Pacific Ocean on its way back to the mainland. News broke on Wednesday, March 4, that passengers on the previous voyage had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

By March 5, passengers were quarantined to their rooms. As the ship circled offshore, prevented from docking, helicopters dropped off 45 test kits. Twenty-one people tested positive, including 19 crew members. There were 3,533 people on the Grand Princess, including 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew members.

Quarantine protocols, which meant confinement to their staterooms, went into effect, and the Holmeses stayed in their cruise ship room, which had a balcony for fresh air, for a week. By March 11, they were antsy to disembark as other groups got called in the early afternoon, but were forced to sleep another night on the ship.

Early the next morning, they received a welcome wake-up call: They could finally disembark.

As soon as they got off the boat, both Nancy and David had their temperatures taken. Both were fine, and they were handed pieces of blue duct tape, indicating they were headed to San Diego. Federal officials designated four bases nationwide for Grand Princess passengers to quarantine, and the Holmeses were previously worried about being shipped off to Georgia or Texas.

Health care workers in full personal protective equipment helped them board buses to the Oakland airport. The highway exit was blocked off for the buses carrying the San Diego-bound group, which was escorted by highway patrol cars.

“It was like a presidential motorcade or a prison bus, I don’t know which,” Nancy said.

The Holmeses boarded a 737 jet with about 100 other cruise ship passengers. Everyone wore masks, although they were allowed to remove them to eat. The Holmeses decided to skip lunch and kept their masks on.

They landed at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station base in San Diego, where their quarantine continues. They are staying at an inn for guests on the base. They have been told they must stay for at least 48 hours.

Unlike on the boat, the Holmeses are allowed to walk around the base, as long as their masks are on. When rainy weather cleared Friday, they went for a long stroll. The whole base is fenced in, reminding them they are not in charge of their lives.

They still get meals and take them to their room to eat. There is a television and good internet connectivity too.

The Washington state Department of Health reached out to the Holmeses via email about bringing them home to quarantine instead of staying on the base. Dozens of Washington residents are at the base, they estimate, but residents from different states are getting different messages. Some passengers from Iowa, for instance, got a call from their governor, the Holmeses said, and they heard the Iowa residents might be flown home on a Lear jet sent to get them.

As of Friday, the Holmeses still didn’t have their bags with all their clothes delivered to their rooms.

“We haven’t seen any clean clothes for two days,” David said. “Luckily we aren’t doing meet and greets.”

Nancy offered a clarification: “I had clean clothes.”

The couple were allowed to have carry-on style bags with them on the plane, but their big suitcases have taken a while to catch up with them. Despite their change in location, they are essentially in limbo.

The couple have not been tested for COVID-19, but they are both still feeling well and not showing symptoms. They have been told testing is optional, but that might change. They participate in “town hall” conference calls each day to get updates, but they still feel uncertain.

“We’re unclear about everything,” David said. “It’s a real mental exercise to keep your sanity.”

“Especially when you have no control over everything, it’s a very unique feeling to not have control,” Nancy said.

Even if they get back to Washington state, they will be arriving in the state with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. So far in Eastern Washington, there are 12 confirmed cases, including three in Spokane County.

As Washington state moves from containment to mitigation strategies, including the governor closing schools and in-person university classes as well as prohibiting events of more than 250 people, the increasing number of cases statewide makes the precautionary quarantine of the Holmeses seem extraordinary with so many Washington residents who have tested positive for the disease treating their symptoms at home.

They acknowledge they could be on the base for two full weeks but are hoping that’s not the case.

“It’s been interesting, but it’s time to come home,” David said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.