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Bloomington couple waiting out Grand Princess cruise ship hit by coronavirus
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Bloomington couple waiting out Grand Princess cruise ship hit by coronavirus

SAN FRANCISCO — A Bloomington couple hopes to return to Illinois this month, after their vacation on a cruise ship was extended after 21 people on board tested positive for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.

Barbara May and her husband, Jordan, are among the 3,553 people aboard the Grand Princess for what was originally scheduled for a two-week journey from San Francisco to Hawaii. However, the trip was interrupted on its return leg Wednesday when officials learned that a 71-year-old California man who had traveled on the ship last month died of the disease last week.

“We woke Thursday to a letter informing us,” Barbara said. “That’s when everything started to change. We noticed they had removed the salt and pepper shakers from the tables. We couldn’t touch anything. The staff members were wearing masks and gloves and delivered and prepared everything.”

The chief medical officer of the ship, Dr. Grant Tarling, issued a “health advisory letter” to guests and crew aboard the ship. Later that day, officials issued an update which changed the course of the trip.

Following guidelines from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control, all guests were asked to stay in their staterooms while test results on 45 crew members and guests are pending, officials announced. Guests are receiving meal deliveries in their staterooms by room service, and additional television and movie options have been added to in-room programming. Guests from 54 different countries have also been provided complimentary internet service to stay in contact with their family and loved ones.

Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays of food in covered plates, and placed outside the stateroom doors.

More than 400 people have tested positive for the disease in the United States and as of Sunday, 19 deaths have been associated with the coronavirus. Of the 21 people who tested positive on the cruise ship, 19 were crew members.

President Donald Trump was made aware of the situation.

“They would like to have the people come off. I’d rather have the people stay (on the ship),” he said Friday. “But I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision. I would rather — because I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

May said she and her husband are making the best of it.

“The captain (John Smith) comes on about every three hours with an update, even if there is nothing really new,” she said. “They are trying to do everything they can to make it as comfortable as possible.”

Virus Outbreak

This photo provided by Michele Smith shows an empty dining center on the Grand Princess cruise ship Friday off the California coast. Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered a cruise ship with about 3,500 people aboard to stay back from the California coast until passengers and crew can be tested, after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the disease.

Fortunately, for the Mays, they have access to a balcony and are able to experience the outdoors on a limited basis and converse with others who also have staterooms with balconies.

The ship set anchor about 20 miles off the coast of San Francisco. Barbara reported seeing a helicopter take someone off of the ship which Grand Princess officials confirmed was a critically ill U.S. guest and their travel companion who were transported to a shoreside medical facility for treatment unrelated to coronavirus.

“We enjoyed Saturday because we were able to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a distance,” she said. “The highlight was watching this boat ‘Miss Tammie,’ delivering pallets of supplies and water. We also got to watch a seal that came out to entertain us.”

The couple is unsure of when they will be able to return home, but officials informed the passengers they would be heading for Oakland to disembark on Monday, through an evacuation process specified by federal authorities.

“That may take a couple of days,” she said. “They are grouping people and acute care passengers will be in the first group to leave.”

Group two will be non-acute California residents and the third group, which includes the Mays, will be U.S. residents from other than California. The final group will be other nationalities.

Barbara May said Sunday night that their group will be taken to Texas or Georgia. "We will be tested when we get to our destination and probably quarantined for 14 more days," she said.

A woman from St. Louis has also been reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus. She traveled by train to St. Louis, including through portions of Central Illinois, including the Uptown Normal Amtrak location.

Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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