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Remember the Grand Princess?
Attention understandably shifted away from the cruise ship in recent days as the coronavirus spread rapidly across California.
Yet the saga of the ship’s passengers, most of whom are still in quarantine at military bases, has been emblematic of the country’s shortfalls since the virus was first detected in the United States. There have been shortages of basic protective gear like masks and stark contradictions between how officials vowed to handle the passengers and what the federal authorities actually ended up doing.
Three days before the ship docked in Oakland with 21 people onboard confirmed to have the coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence was unequivocal about finding out who else was infected on the vessel. “We will be testing everyone on the ship,” he said.
But after more than 2,000 passengers disembarked and were dispatched to military bases in California, Georgia and Texas, they were told that there were not enough tests for everyone. Several days into the 14-day quarantine, passengers said their requests for testing were denied.
Then last week, passengers at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield were given an information sheet with this message: “You are not required to be tested. It will be your choice.”
At least six people in quarantine so far have tested positive in recent days, according to two passengers at two military bases in California. And at least nine others are hospitalized with symptoms.
Suzanne Suwanda, a passenger in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base, said in an interview on Wednesday that tests had not taken place among the passengers she has been in touch with.
Ms. Suwanda, who has no symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, said she decided against getting tested because she wanted to get out of quarantine as soon as possible.
“They said if you get tested and your results aren’t back by the end of the 14 days you will not be allowed to leave,” Ms. Suwanda said. “And they said we don’t know how long this is going to take.”
At quarantine facilities in California and Georgia, people are concerned that the lack of cleanliness and enforcement of protocols like social distancing is only increasing their chances of catching the virus. There are no gloves for passengers, there are no hand-sanitizing stations and each passenger has only one face mask that he or she must reuse for stretches of several days. Some people had no soap in their rooms.
People leaned on surfaces and touched counters without cleaning their hands before and after, according to people at military bases in California and Georgia. At the quarantine facility in Georgia, passengers wore the same single-use face mask for nearly a week, said Mark Pace, who was quarantined there and is now home in Florida.
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Michele Smith, 57, an administrative assistant who is quarantined at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, said she had overheard people saying they were going to choose not to be tested so that they could leave as soon as they can, unless they fall so ill that they need to go to the hospital.
“That’s scary,” said Mrs. Smith, who said she and her husband decided to be tested. But on the other hand, the conditions in quarantine are so poor, she said, that she doesn’t blame them: “You do start to feel like you’re in jail.”
Treatment of the passengers has been inconsistent. Florida residents were allowed to quarantine at home, but California residents were ordered to stay for the full 14 days. Some passengers reported that they have not had their temperature taken since arriving. Others get temperature readings three times a day.
Marcia, 69, who is also quarantined at Miramar, said her 81-year-old husband has been running a temperature on and off over the past week. Doctors told them there aren’t enough tests available for everyone, but after insisting, she and her husband were tested on Monday and will receive the results by Friday.
Her husband went to the emergency room on Monday after running a high fever and having severe gastric distress. Marcia, who didn’t want to give her last name because her lawyer advised her not to speak with reporters, said she’s had just one bar of soap to clean his soiled pajamas and only just received basic cleaning supplies like laundry detergent.
Earlier in the week, when 50-some people were in line to get breakfast, her husband fainted. “There was no social distancing whatsoever,” she said. “We were like sardines in a can.”
A statement on Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is overseeing the quarantine of passengers, acknowledged “significant logistical challenges that have affected passengers.”
“This is the first federal quarantine in nearly 60 years,” the statement said. “We continue to focus on hospitality issues, such as food service and housekeeping, to improve the comfort of our guests.”
Michelle Saunders, 23, and her grandmother Hildegarde Baxpehler, 83, said they didn’t receive meals for their first 17 hours in quarantine at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Ga. But what has worried Ms. Saunders most, she said, is the sanitary conditions.
When they arrived in their room on the base, after being crammed onto a bus and then a small plane with other passengers from the Grand Princess, she said, the floors of her and her grandmother’s room were dirty, the bathroom and ceilings were moldy, and there were no towels, soap or laundry detergent.
“It sounds dramatic to say I’m in a prison camp, but certain aspects feel that way,” Ms. Saunders said.
Here’s what else to read
We often link to sites that limit access for nonsubscribers. We appreciate your reading Times coverage, but we also encourage you to support local news if you can.
“I felt as if I didn’t matter.” While many Americans have fled their offices, janitors are being told to do the opposite — and without gear or instruction. [The New York Times]
Here’s a thorough roundup of all the proposals and legislative moves aimed at helping Californians struggling in the pandemic. [CalMatters]
And Finally …
We want to end on a brighter note, so we’re continuing with our series of working-from-home pets.
Andi Jordan, who is the executive director of the Cities Association of Santa Clara County, sent this photo of Baloo, a 3-year-old Saint Bernard with a blue eye.
She’s been working from home and her husband will be soon. They’re usually empty nesters, she said, but at the moment, two of their three children in their 20s are working remotely from their house and the third just wrapped up his college finals — also from their home.
Baloo is “a little confused about why the family is home,” Ms. Jordan wrote. But if his expression here is any indication, he knows exactly what he’s doing on the Monopoly board.
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.