AUSTIN (KXAN) — Under a federal order, approximately 90 Texans currently on the Grand Princess Cruise ship off the coast of California will be transported to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in San Antonio, according to a spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The Grand Princess ship, which is carrying more than 3,500 people from 54 countries, is expected to dock at the Port of Oakland, California, on Monday. Princess Cruises officials said in a statement the disembarkment could take several days.
The U.S. Coast Guard will assist with medical triage, screening and interviews, and to avoid delays, cruise ship officials said, “testing will be conducted when guests arrive at their onward destination.” All American passengers will be tested for the COVID-19 virus and taken to military bases for a 14-day quarantine.
Among the passengers are Skip Casteel and his wife, Anna, from Wimberley.
“I was like, ‘What?!’ I had no idea that he was on this boat that they had been talking about,” Laura Hassell, Skip’s daughter and Anna’s step-daughter, said in a telephone interview.
Federal officials said the Department of State is working with the home countries of several hundred passengers to arrange for repatriation to their countries, according to the Associated Press.
“We thought that, you know, in a matter of hours they would have resolved it and he would be back on dry land. And then hours turned into days, that’s when the panic starts setting in,” Hassell said.
Hassell has been worried about food and medicine — she said Skip ran out of insulin on Saturday.
“You plan and you bring your appropriate medications, but you also don’t think you’re going to be stuck out at sea away from pharmacies if you need to get your refills,” Hassell said.
The medicine arrived Sunday afternoon but Hassell said moving forward, she wants the cruise ship company to adopt better communication.
“I’m hoping when this is over, and it’s over soon, that we’re going to learn something from this … That we’ll have a better plan in place for something like this,” she explained.
The ship was expected to dock around noon on Monday as it was escorted toward the dock by Coast Guard crafts. When it’s all said and done, Skip and Anna Casteel will have spent 30-35 days on board the ship.
In a statement, Princess Cruises officials said the team gathered prescription refill needs from guests on Friday and filled 405 prescriptions on Sunday. Officials added they prioritized prescriptions by the “most urgently required,” and will continue the process to fill the remaining prescription requests.
Ship officials also said they worked with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control to approve a rotation program. This allowed guests fresh air and sunlight. Guests were instructed to adhere to social distancing.
The ship continues to provide complimentary internet and telephone connections, according to cruise ship officials so guests stay in contact with their families.
KXAN was able to reach Skip by text message Sunday night.
He said he and his wife are both doing well, showing no symptoms of COVID-19.
Skip said passengers have been informed of a 14-day quarantine period on land, but right now, they don’t know who is going where.
“These passengers will not be released into the general public. The cruise ship passengers will remain at Lackland under quarantine until they clear the revised and heightened testing protocol to ensure they are not affected by the virus,” Gov. Abbott’s spokesperson John Wittman said in the statement.
Once cleared, Texans will be released to return home while non-Texans will be safely transported to their home state, according to Abbott’s spokesperson.
Abbott’s spokesperson added that this was not a State of Texas decision, but was determined at the federal level. Vice President Mike Pence along with the United States Department of Health and Human Services informed Gov. Abbott about the decision on Saturday night.
San Antonio’s mayor took to Facebook Sunday, stating he’s been told none of the evacuees set to arrive at Lackland have any symptoms of COVID-19 and they’d all be tested once they arrive at the base.
Diamond Princess quarantine
About three weeks ago, Princess Cruises evacuated another ship contaminated with the coronavirus.
Those passengers stayed on the Diamond Princess for two weeks before being quarantined another 14 days on land.
At the time, a Japanese official said the process could have spread the disease to other passengers and staff on board.
“We learned a lot from our experiences in Japan and we’re taking those lessons into account,” Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises president, said in a video posted to Twitter on March 6.
KXAN reached out to the company to ask what changed between the two quarantines.
We have yet to hear back.