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Spokane couple recounts being ‘trapped’ on holiday cruise as COVID-19 cases surge

The Donahues went on a cruise to celebrate Jack Donahue’s 60th birthday. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, Jack tested positive for COVID and described what happened after as “frustrating.”  (Courtesy of Cyndi Donahue)
The Donahues went on a cruise to celebrate Jack Donahue’s 60th birthday. Despite being vaccinated and boosted, Jack tested positive for COVID and described what happened after as “frustrating.” (Courtesy of Cyndi Donahue)

What started as one Spokane couple’s holiday cruise quickly turned into a nightmare once one of them tested positive for COVID-19.

Cyndi and Jack Donahue booked their tickets for the Caribbean sea cruise with Viking Cruises in summer 2021, when vaccinations rates were rising and the omicron variant had yet to snake its way into the population.

Jack Donahue was turning 60, and Cyndi Donahue had wanted to celebrate with a tropical trip. They got both shots of the vaccine and then the booster shot as soon as they could.

“We were getting nervous because of omicron, but we couldn’t get out financially,” Cyndi Donahue said. “It was a dream trip, so we jumped in with both feet.”

The first days of the cruise went well, Cyndi Donahue said.

They had good experiences with the crew and staff on the boat and were able to enjoy the tropical weather as Spokane dealt with frigid temperatures.

The day after Christmas, the problems started. Jack Donahue tested positive for coronavirus.

“At first we thought, we’ll just stay in the room, we’ll order room service and stay in here and just get through it,” Cyndi Donahue said.

But Cyndi Donahue tested negative, so the cruise management told the couple Jack would have to isolate in a separate room for a full 10 days.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 27 announced it was lowering the isolation period to five days.

Jack Donahue said he figured the cruise ship would have followed suit, but they were told the cruise ship’s policies wouldn’t budge.

For Cyndi Donahue, who tested negative each day during her husband’s isolation, she said she felt stuck in limbo. She did not want to leave her husband, but staying on the ship meant taking a risk, she said.

“I’m so scared of getting COVID now … I need to get off this boat as soon as possible,” Cyndi Donahue said.

They were scheduled to get off Jan. 2 in Puerto Rico, but they were told that could not happen because it only marked nine days for Jack in isolation.

Despite this, the couple walked off the boat as scheduled in Puerto Rico, with little pushback from the cruise line.

In late December the CDC advised against taking a cruise regardless of vaccination status because of the recent surge in omicron cases.

The center said it considered cruises a level-four risk – the highest level – for catching the virus.

The center also opened investigations into dozens of cruise lines after they reported new cases in 0.10% or more of passengers.

If 6,500 passengers are on board, that would mean seven or more cases in the past seven days, the CDC said.

Three ships operated by Viking Cruises, the company that headed the Donahues’ cruise, are restricted and remain under investigation for COVID-19 outbreaks, according to the CDC.

The Donahues were aboard the Viking Sea, which is one of those ships.

Cruise ships were at the center of outbreaks in the start of the pandemic in April 2020.

Public health experts said the industry’s choice to sail for weeks after coronavirus was detected contributed to early outbreaks.

Though he and his wife made it home as scheduled, Jack Donahue said the lack of transparency about the risks soured their experiences on cruises.

They were never refunded, Cyndi Donahue said in a follow-up interview.

“The only follow-up from Viking was a certificate for another cruise, to which I said we will never cruise again,” Cyndi Donahue said.

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