On March 9, a Florida couple filed a $1 million lawsuit against Princess Cruise Lines, alleging the company put profits over safety and didn’t have proper screening procedures in place on the ship. The couple was among more than 3,500 passengers aboard the Grand Princess ocean liner, where at least 21 people became infected with the coronavirus. The couple, who departed from San Francisco on February 21 on their way to Hawaii, were still passengers of the Grand Princess when they filed the federal lawsuit. According to the complaint:
If Plaintiffs had knowledge of this actual risk of exposure prior to boarding, they would have never boarded the ship. Due to the Defendant’s outright negligence in failing to warn Plaintiffs of the actual risk of exposure to COVID-19 aboard its infected ship, Plaintiffs are quarantined in their cabin along with the rest of the passengers and crew, off the coast of San Francisco, anxiously awaiting their fate.
After state and local authorities became aware that some passengers from a previous cruise on the same ship had exhibited flu-like symptoms, the Grand Princess was refused entry to San Francisco Bay on March 4 and not permitted to dock until March 9 at the Port of Oakland. Most of the passengers of the ill-fated ship remain in quarantine, and at least six of those have tested positive in recent days. The ocean liner has also been linked to 12 coronavirus cases from an earlier voyage to Mexico.
According to the lawsuit, Grand Princess passengers were not screened and instead were asked to “fill out a piece of paper confirming they were not sick” without any further questions. The lawsuit charges that the cruise operator should have developed better methods to protect passengers because of its experience with another of its cruise liners – the Diamond Princess – which was quarantined in Japan for two weeks in February after 700 people aboard became infected, and seven died.
Vice President Mike Pence said in a March 1 statement: “We will be testing everyone on the ship,” but he has since admitted that of the 3,533 people on board the Grand Princess, only 46 had been tested. After the passengers left the ship and were taken to military bases in California, Georgia and Texas for quarantine, they were informed that there were not enough tests for everyone, and several days into their 14-day quarantine, officials denied their requests to be tested.
Last week, passengers quarantined at Travis Air Force Base received the following message: “You are not required to be tested. It will be your choice,” as reported by the New York Times. Many are refusing to be tested, since they have been told they will not be able to leave until the results are back, and nobody knows how long that will take.
According to some who were formerly under quarantine, the conditions at the bases are generally poor due to a lack of food, little or no information concerning coronavirus testing, and inadequate medical attention. There is also growing concern about the lack of cleanliness and enforcement of protocols like social distancing, which many fear is increasing their chances of contracting the virus while in quarantine. Passengers were allegedly required to wear the same single-use face mask for almost a week and some people had no soap or towels in their rooms. In a statement released March 16 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (the agency supervising the quarantine of passengers), the HHS admitted “significant logistical challenges that have affected passengers” during the first federal quarantine in nearly 60 years.
In response to the major shutdown affecting the cruise industry since the virus began to spread, docked cruise ships could soon be repurposed into floating hospitals. On March 19, Carnival announced that it plans to offer up select cruise ships as “temporary health care facilities to treat non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up additional space and expanding capacity in land-based hospitals to treat cases of COVID-19.” President Donald Trump called the gesture “a generous offer,” citing the size of the ships, the continued spread of COVID-19 cases, and the need to free up hospital beds to treat those who become gravely ill.