S.F. family survives cruise ship quarantine

A Japanese American family from San Francisco, passengers on a cruise ship forced to dock at the Port of Oakland after some people on board had been infected with the deadly coronavirus, was finally released from quarantine at a military base in California and allowed to return home.

Adelina and Henry Serata and their 23-year-old granddaughter Michelle Heckert had boarded the Grand Princess cruise ship as it embarked on a trip to Hawai‘i beginning Feb. 21 and arriving in the state Feb. 26. The ship made stops at Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui and Hilo.

The cruise left the Hawaiian Islands Feb. 29 and was sailing to Ensenada, Mexico — but cruise officials canceled that stop and headed to San Francisco and docked in Oakland after a passenger passed away.

Guests had been in isolation since March 4, when authorities began testing for possible COVID-19 cases on board. The virus is believed to have been transmitted from infected passengers on a previous mid-February Grand Princess voyage to Mexico.

Of the 3,533 people aboard the Grand Princess during the Hawai‘i cruise, 45 were tested and at least 21 people returned positive results, including two guests and 19 crew members.

‘Very Nice Time’
Serata said in a phone interview that taking a 15-day cruise to Hawai‘i is something she and her husband do almost every year. However, while returning from Hawai‘i this time, passengers were informed of a “coronavirus situation” on board. After 10 days on the ship, passengers were quarantined in their room for six days.

“We had a very nice time for 10 days,” Serata recalled. “Then we were quarantined in our room … We had more than enough food. Our suite had a huge balcony and we were able to get a lot of air. My granddaughter … was singing and playing the ‘ukulele.”

Every morning and night, they had their temperature taken, which she noted, “was constantly normal for all three of us. Our meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — were brought to the door. We wore masks and the crew serving us wore shields, masks, and gloves … When we needed medication — my husband has health problems — somebody would go to a pharmacy and pick up the medications for us. Princess Cruise was very good. They paid for all of it.”

Quarantined for 14 Days
Once the passengers disembarked in Oakland on March 21, the Seratas were taken to Travis Air Force Base to be quarantined for 14 days. As they left the ship, they were told to wear their masks, but everybody on the bus going to Travis took their masks off, Serata complained. “That wasn’t good. The bus was full of people, and who knew if they had coronavirus. That’s a bit scary.”

They took the COVID-19 test at Travis and it was normal, she reported. “It took five days for my husband and me to get our results. It took Michelle seven days because they were so backlogged as more people wanted to take the test. Those people were so concerned about not being able to get tested once they got home, and they were frightened.”

While housed at the base, some people became ill, Serata said.

“While we were there at Travis, some people developed a fever. Sometimes these viruses are slow in developing, so that’s why even though we were quarantined … we are still careful of going anywhere.”

After six days being quarantined on the ship, and another 14 days under quarantine at Travis Air Force Base, the family was finally released to go home. “We hadn’t been home for 30 days,” she exclaimed. “Talk about going through Hell … It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Kami-sama (God) gave us courage, hope and thankfulness.”

As the family was about to leave Travis to head home, they discovered their luggage was being sent to another location instead of going with them to San Francisco International Airport. But Serata complained to officials, who retrieved their luggage in time for the family to take the bus to SFO to be picked up by their son-in-law.

“We were very lucky,” she said. “That bus to SFO had only 11 passengers and alternate rows of seats were blocked off. We could’ve gotten on another bus crowded full of people … We wouldn’t know who had the coronavirus.”

The situation ended “very nicely,” said Serata, who said Princess Cruises is going to reimburse them for the cruise. “I must say that they took very good care of us … My husband and I are grateful.”

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