The Washigtnon Post - 03.04.2020

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A8 eZ su the washington post.friday, april 3 , 2020


the coronavirus pandemic


the pandemic upending daily life
in an uneven way. Some people
were living in a nightmare, sick
and scared. Some people were
living in odd inconvenience, do-
ing jumping jacks on their balco-
nies and watching movies. The
crew, depleted by illness, had to
work overtime — like other essen-
tial workers on the mainland. But
all were in the same boat, so to
speak: on an anxious voyage back
to a changed world, unsure when
they’d return to solid ground.
This is their story, as told by
Zaandam passengers through
phone interviews, social media
posts and email correspondence.
Some quotes have been con-
de nsed and lightly edited for
clarity.
Valerie Myntti, 68, retired at-
torney (Minnesota): my parents
had given us this trip as a present;
they had done exactly this cruise,
and they loved it.
Daniel Petrucelli, 71 , retired
business analyst (Massachu-
setts): We booked it more than a
year ago.
Ian Rae, 73, musician (Eng-
land): for my wife’s 70th birth-
day celebration, we decided to go
on the holiday of a lifetime.


South Koreans have been quar-
antining themselves for weeks.
Italy has made the decision to
close its universities and schools.
But on March 7 in Buenos Aires,
the day Zaandam’s passengers
board the ship, Argentina has
only just announced the coun-
try’s first coronavirus-related
death.


Rae: As far as I was concerned,
coming to South America was
better than being in Europe, with
Italy getting bad.
Orlando resident Dave Parks,
whose Florida-based parents
are on the ship: I know as late as
march 7, the vice president was
saying, “Hey don’t cancel your
cruises, it’s still safe to go.”
John Williams, 73, retired
teacher (Canada): We did our
due diligence. We checked with
the government of Canada.
California resident Max Jo,
whose parents are on the ship:
The cruise company wouldn’t re-
fund cancellations; $15,000 is the
most money my parents have
ever spent on anything.
Petrucelli: We had three con-
tainers of Clorox wipes, 10 things
of hand sanitizer. my wife was a
Girl Scout. She’s prepared.
Paul Major, 63, professor of
dentistry (Canada): my wife def-
initely had reservations about
being on a cruise. I hate to think
about it now, but I convinced her
it would be okay.


In the first days of Zaandam’s
voyage, the cruise lives up to its
promise.


Myntti: Sea life and cruise life
take on their own rhythm. There
are beautiful rooms, beautiful
food, beautiful architecture.
You’re learning and having won-
derful conversations. There are
libraries and books and fresh air
and lectures. It’s just its own
world.
Major: [It was] everything
that we were hoping for. Great
food, excellent staff.
Petrucelli: When we got to Pun-
ta Arenas [at the southern tip of
Chile], we did a tour called “off the
Beaten Path.” We went to a pen-
guin reserve. We had to take a
smaller boat off to Isla margarita —
Mary Ellen Petrucelli:
magdalena.
Mr. Petrucelli: macarena.
Mrs. Petrucelli: magdalena!
Mr. Petrucelli: We went to the
island. The penguins just walked
around, but the rangers were
making sure you didn’t try to
touch a penguin. That was the
last time we were off the boat.
After that, things started to go
wrong.


Zaandam’s next scheduled stop
is Ushuaia, a resort town on the
southern tip of Argentina. Mid-
route, the captain announces that
Argentina is closing its borders to
cruise ships. The new plan: Zaan-
dam will immediately reverse
course, trying to make it back to
Punta Arenas before Chile closes
its borders, too.


Rae: Suddenly, in the middle
of the night, there was a thing put
through the door — a letter say-
ing that Argentina had closed its
border and the ship was turning
around.
Major: Then the captain was
told that Chile was closing its
borders.
Rae: By the time we got back to
Punta Arenas, we were too late.
Major: We completed all the
health forms [from] the Chilean
government, including taking
our body temperature. We even


CRUISE SHIP from A


booked our flights. Unfortunate-
ly, after two days, the authorities
denied disembarkation.
Daniel Petrucelli: We sat in
the harbor in Punta Arenas for a
couple of days. They wouldn’t
even let us in the harbor. ... What
looked like their navy was out
there. What do they think, we’re
going to jump off the boat and try
to swim?
Rae: We had to go back to sea.
Myntti: At that point, Holland
America suspended all of its
cruises. We knew we needed to
find a port, but all the way up the
[Chilean] coast — all the ports
were closing as we reached them.

Many passengers were meant
to disembark in San Antonio,
Chile. But with Chile refusing to
allow Zaandam to dock and of-
fload passengers, the ship is
forced to anchor off Valparaiso
while boats from the mainland
bring fuel and supplies.

Myntti: There were Purell sta-
tions everywhere. The staff was
constantly sanitizing rails, and
handles, and elevator buttons,
and everything you can imagine.
Daniel Petrucelli: At that
point, it wasn’t so bad. You could
go out on the deck and read a
book. We [saw news about the
coronavirus spreading on land]
and thought, “Boy we dodged a
bullet.”
Jo (in California): Dinner was
delivered to rooms. Dad writes,
“lobster and shrimp, not bad,”
and, “We are doing okay so far.”
Myntti: People are clearly wor-
ried about their families, but they
were saying, “We’re safe on this
boat.” We’re in the better place to
be than they are. I have a daugh-
ter in Brooklyn. I’m much more
worried about her.
Petrucelli: Then they an-
nounced people were showing up
in the infirmary.
Major: The captain an-
nounced that passengers and
crew members had reported in-
fluenza-type respiratory symp-
toms.
Williams: We were all sitting
on the pool deck, and they made
the announcement that we all
needed to go to our cabins. We
didn’t think it would be forever.
Jo (in California): my sister
had been writing to my parents,
“How are you feeling, health-
wise?” And they kept not answer-
ing that question. my s ister called
me — “Does it worry you that
they’re not answering the ques-
tion?” I’d had the same concern,
but I almost didn’t want to bring
it up. I almost didn’t want to
know.
Williams: The second day,
they gave us masks.
Rae: one day, certain parts of
the ship were allowed up on the
deck to walk around and get fresh
air.
Petrucelli: The starboard side
of deck one would go and then
the portside of deck one would
go, all the way up to the seventh
deck.
Joan Price, traveling with
John Williams: The people
across the hall don’t even have a
window. Sometimes they call us
and ask, “Is the ship moving?”
Because they can’t tell.
Petrucelli: We have four bot-

tles of wine, but we’re not really in
the mood to be drinking. I look
out at the window and all I see is
water, water, water.
Jo (in California): I could hear
it in my dad’s voice that he wasn’t
feeling well. He said, “Yeah, I
didn’t want to tell you, but I’ve
been running a fever for about a
week.”

By now Zaandam has left Val-
paraiso, bound for Panama. That
weekend, March 21 and 22, people
begin to get sick and, by the
following Tuesday, 30 passengers
and 47 crew members have re-
ported to Zaandam’s medical cen-
ter with flu-like symptoms. An-
other Holland America cruise
ship, Rotterdam, meets Zaandam
off the coast of Panama, carrying
supplies, an additional 611 crew
members and a batch of covid-
test kits. Two passengers test posi-
tive, 20 more report flu-like
symptoms, and now 14 percent of
the original crew is feeling ill.
On Friday morning, there is a
chilling announcement over the
public address system: Four
guests are dead. (All were men in
their 70s, and two had succumbed
to covid-related complications.)

Myntti: We cried and cried. We
were concerned for the safety of
the staff, and our fellow passen-
gers. There was the sense that
these people died and their fami-
lies are so far away. They may
have died alone in an infirmary.
Rae: It was just a shock to the
system. It’s very much a sobering
thing. As m y wife says, quite often
people pass away on ships be-
cause if you look at the passen-
gers, they’re in that age bracket. I
am in that bracket.
Max Jo (in California): I
couldn’t help to think what it
would be like to be my parents, in
the prime-risk category, learning
that people were sick on board,
and then learning that people
had died. And meanwhile, they’re
stuck on a tin can.
Dave Parks (in Orlando): my
parents lost Internet in their
room for that time frame. And
those three days of not being able
to communicate — when you’re
not hearing anything more, you
think the worst.
Jo: I don’t want my parents on
that ship a minute longer. And I
can’t stop thinking about the
crew.

While passengers are confined
to their rooms, the crew members
have to keep the ship functioning.

A dancer on the entertainment
staff, who had been ill, is released
from quarantine and reassigned
to food delivery, pushing a bever-
age cart down deserted hallways
while wearing an N95 mask and
gloves. On a Facebook page for
family of crew and passengers, a
mother expresses terror for her
son, whom she says works in the
ship’s kitchen.
After the deaths are an-
nounced, Holland America be-
gins to screen and transfer symp-
tom-free guests to the Rotterdam.

Myntti: We were told all of the
people who had inside rooms,
and were over 70, and were
healthy would have the chance to
go to the rotterdam.
Williams: They gave us a ques-
tionnaire and we had a doctor
come around and take our tem-
perature.
Major: my wife and I trans-
ferred from the Zaandam to the
rotterdam using the small tender
boats from the ships.
Rae: my wife and I have had a
little cough. The first question on
the questionnaire was “have you
suffered from a cough or fever or
tiredness over last 10 days?” We
answered it honestly, so we didn’t
get to the rotterdam.

The plan is for the two ships,
one “healthy” (Rotterdam) and
one not (Zaandam), to head for
Florida and come to port in Fort
Lauderdale, Fla. Getting there
requires traveling through the
Panama Canal.

Rae (aboard Zaandam): Lots
of places are saying we don’t w ant
the ship, and it didn’t look as if
Panama was going to let us
through.
Major (aboard Rotterdam):
There was a great deal of rumors
on social media regarding wheth-
er or not we would be granted
passage through the canal, but
the formal word came [Sunday]
evening from the captain that we
were granted passage.
Parks (in Orlando): I’ve been
tracking the ship online through
Cruisetracker. I was up at 2 a.m.
the other night seeing them en-
tering the canal.
Joan Price (Zaandam): Every-
body who had a balcony had to
turn off their lights and not go
outside. They didn’t want any
lights from the ship [to avoid
potential backlash from Panama-
nians]. The captain announced
that we’d gone through the canal
in seven hours, which was pretty

much a record.
Major: There is no solution to
when or where we will disem-
bark. The two ships are traveling
together toward florida.

The ships emerge from the Pan-
ama Canal on Sunday, and set a
course for Fort Lauderdale. On
Monday, 76 guests and 117 crew
on Zaandam have flu-like symp-
toms; eight people have tested
positive for covid-19. The vast
majority of the passengers and
crews of Zaandam and Rotter-
dam — 2,300 people altogether —
remain healthy. There are about
300 Americans, including several
dozen Floridians. Florida Gov.
Ron DeSantis (R) says on “Fox &
Friends” that it would be a “big,
big problem” if passengers were
“dumped” in his state. A task
force of officials is trying to orga-
nize a plan that would allow for
safe disembarkation at Port Ever-
glades in Fort Lauderdale.

Barbara Sharief, Broward
County, Fla., commissioner: I
have several constituents from
my district [onboard]. They’ve
been sending me emails. I have
an elderly couple, and his wife is
on chemotherapy. She is out of
her medication and she needs to
get off that ship.
Dean Trantalis, mayor of Fort
Lauderdale: We’re a welcoming
community. We should be pre-
pared to receive these folks. We’re
also concerned about [asymp-
tomatic carriers] and what im-
pact they would have as they
entered fort Lauderdale. So that
was the dilemma we were faced
with. There still is no protocol to
address the disembarkment. And
now we’re discovering there’s not
only one boat but two boats.
Sharief: I get probably
10 emails every hour, and two
people are saying “Don’t let this
ship dock,” and the other eight
are saying, “Let these people
come home, give them care, it’s
the humanitarian thing to do.”
Orlando Ashford, president
of Holland America Line (in an
open letter March 30 ): Nations
are justifiably focused on the
covid-19 crisis unfolding before
them. But they’ve turned their
backs on thousands of people left
floating at sea.
Myntti (Zaandam): T hey don’t
want us to dock. I understand
and I sympathize. The local offi-
cials are there to protect floridi-
ans. But this is truly a time where
we need to find humane and wise
solutions.
Dave Parks (in Orlando):
[People are] thinking, “Well, it
departed from Argentina, it
should go back.” But what’s been
lost is the goal was for the ship to
end up back in the United States
on April 7. my parents had full
intentions of sailing back to the
United States.
Parks’s stepfather, Roy J.
Smith (Zaandam), in a March
30 Facebook post: Governor De-
Santis has lost our vote.. how can
we be “dumped” i n our own state.
We just want to go home! ... We
have been in isolation for almost
10 days and are not sick. People in
florida need to stand up for us
and help us get home.
Trantalis: We understand
[passengers] want to go home

and escape this nightmare.
There’s no simple solution here.
We never want to say no to
people, but we want to make sure
when we lay out the welcome
mat, we’re not pulling it out from
under them.
Max Jo (in California): my
parents, 50-year citizens of the
United States, are going to get to
the border and say, “I’m home,”
and we’re going to say, now, “You
can’t come home even though
you’re sick”?
Gregory Tony, interim sheriff
of Broward County: We are all
being tested. Not only in our
capability but in our own human-
ity. What are we willing to do for
each other? What are we willing
to sacrifice for each other?

On Wednesday, Holland Amer-
ica reports that there has been
only one new flu-like case in the
past 24 hours aboard the Zaan-
dam — a “significant decline.” At
a news briefing in Washington,
President Trump says the passen-
gers must be accepted “from a
humane standpoint.” As Florida
figures out a solution, and deals
with its own explosion of covid-
cases, life in limbo continues on
the ships, which pass by Cuba.

Daniel Petrucelli (Rotter-
dam): I’ve got my Kindle. We saw
“Die Hard With a Vengeance.” We
saw “Bohemian rhapsody.” I
don’t know what I’d do for a
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Rae (Zaandam): We have got a
nice balcony, a stateroom. I’ve
always tried to do 10,000 steps a
day, which is becoming a real
challenge. Which is 22 steps from
one end to the other. So I have to
do about 500 of those laps to get
10,000.
Williams (Zaandam): We
have done a little exercising. We
grab a wine bottle in each hand
and use them as weights.
Myntti (Zaandam): The ship
captain is an extraordinarily ac-
complished professional and
communicator of the highest or-
der. Wise, capable, compassion-
ate. And I would take another
cruise if he was the captain.
Rae (Zaandam): There is
something really great, late at
night to be traveling across the
oceans and hear the sound of the
water hitting the ship. It’s so
relaxing. And empowering. You
suddenly realize where you are in
the solar system. You’re just very
small, but the world is still a
superb place.

On Thursday morning, the
ships enter U.S. waters off Flori-
da. About 3 p.m. the captain of
Zaandam announces that dock-
ing has been permitted. Although
250 people reported flu-like
symptoms during the voyage,
only 76 remain symptomatic,
with 13 needing hospitalization
onshore; 97 percent of passengers
are deemed “fit for travel.” They
are scheduled to be taken by
chartered vans and planes over
the next few days to begin a
14-day home quarantine.

Rae: It’s a great feeling of
relief. We all just want to get
home.
monica.hesse@washpost.com
dan.zak@washpost.com

Paradise to prison: Vacationers recall a cruise upended


erick marciscano/reuters
Passengers aboard the coronavirus-stricken Zaandam stand on their balconies March 27. Zaandam and its sister ship Rotterdam were permitted to dock Thursday in Florida.

Laura gabaroni Huergo/agence France-Presse/getty images
The cabin of Rotterdam passengers Laura Gabaroni Huergo and
her husband, Juan Huergo, seen Sunday during lockdown.
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