What It Was Like Aboard the Grand Princess in Oakland

What It Was Like Aboard the Grand Princess in Oakland

By Jill Cowan

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A drone buzzed around like a bee about 50 feet away from Rex Lawson’s balcony.

He watched a convoy of ambulances and vans pull up below. Workers in protective suits moved about, while what appeared to be news helicopters hovered overhead.

“I have to comb my hair so I’ll look good on TV,” Mr. Lawson, 86, a retired United Airlines pilot, joked. He marveled at the “tremendous amount of logistics” at work around him.

Given what he had been through, he seemed to be in high spirits.

Mr. Lawson and his wife, Mardell Lawson, 81, were two of the more than 2,400 passengers held aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked at the Port of Oakland on Monday, after becoming a symbolic target of fear of the coronavirus as it circled off the coast.

[Read the full story about the Grand Princess’s arrival in Oakland.]

What began as a 15-day cruise to Hawaii has become an ordeal that will now last roughly a month; passengers like the Lawsons, who were not among the 21 people aboard who tested positive for the virus, won’t be returning home once they disembark sometime in the next couple of days.

While those confirmed to have the virus were to be put in “proper isolation,” according to Vice President Mike Pence, other passengers will be whisked to military bases, where they were set to wait out 14-day quarantines.

According to The Mercury News, more than 1,000 crew members, many of whom are from the Philippines, will stay on the quarantined ship when it leaves Oakland, although it’s unclear where it will go.

Only 45 people aboard have been tested so far, meaning that the number of infections seemed likely to rise in coming days.

The Lawsons, who live in Santa Cruz, were set to be taken to Travis Air Force Base, about an hour away from the port, along with many of the other passengers who live in California.

An Air Force veteran, Mr. Lawson told me he’d been to the base “quite some time ago,” but now he expected this visit to be marked largely by the fact that he wouldn’t be able to hit the golf course as he had planned for his return home.

And the food, he guessed, would be less appealing than it had been aboard the ship — even on the extra days.

On the boat, he said, they’ve been served three solid meals a day.

“Sometimes it’s a little cool, or it’s a little late, but there are fruits and vegetables,” Mr. Lawson said. “If we had to be in quarantine, this is about the best you could possibly hope for.”

They’ve watched television — mostly MSNBC — and greeted neighbors from their small balcony.

When the ship crossed under the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, “everybody clapped and yelled.”

He said he was “not in a great deal of worry,” even though he knows that he and his wife are in the age range of people who could be particularly vulnerable to the illness, and that a man who had previously been on the ship died from the virus.

The couple have been on roughly two dozen cruises, he said. This one, which departed from San Francisco and required no air travel, began as a convenient winter getaway.

And in spite of everything, the Lawsons said they’d probably take another cruise in the future.

“It’ll be a while,” he said. His wife chimed in: “Someday!”


  • Not long after Santa Clara County officials announced the first Covid-19 death — of a woman in her 60s who had been hospitalized for several weeks — they announced a ban on all gatherings of 1,000 people or more. That throws three San Jose Sharks games and the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament at Stanford into question. [The Associated Press]

  • More schools and universities, including San Jose State University and the University of California, Berkeley, canceled in-person classes. [KPIX]

  • U.C. San Diego also announced its spring quarter classes would take place remotely. [NBC San Diego]

And a quick note: In Monday’s newsletter, I misstated that San Francisco Unified School District schools had closed, when it was only one, Lowell High School. You can find the latest updates from the district here.

  • Here’s a brief list of some of the highest profile events to be canceled, postponed or otherwise affected by the outbreak. (This includes the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and South by Southwest.) [The New York Times]

  • Financial markets spiraled on Monday, increasing the risk of a vicious cycle that could usher in a recession. [The New York Times]

  • A new study suggests that kids aren’t somehow immune to the coronavirus. They just don’t get very sick. [Wired]

  • Here’s how not to get sick while traveling. [The New York Times]

[Read all the latest updates here.]


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.

  • Rain finally came to Southern California to give the region what is expected to be its biggest soaking since Christmas. [The Weather Channel]

  • A 5.8-magnitude earthquake rattled coastal towns in Northern California on Sunday. [The Sacramento Bee]

  • “I understand that I have benefited from being part of this world. But this campaign has reinforced my passion for spending all my time and money to change the political neglect that has brought this nation to a very low place.” Tom Steyer wrote about what he learned running for president. [New York Times Opinion]

If you missed it, in December, Mr. Steyer wouldn’t categorically rule out challenging Senator Kamala Harris for her seat. [The New York Times]

  • For the past two decades, Californians have supported school bonds. But things aren’t looking good for the one that was on this month’s ballot. What happened? [CalMatters]

Also, read more about this year’s Proposition 13. [The New York Times]

  • Mitchell Englander, a former Los Angeles City councilman, was charged with obstruction in a sweeping corruption probe. Federal officials say he accepted lavish freebies, like bottle service in Las Vegas followed by a visit from an escort, and lied about it. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • Scott Wiener, the state lawmaker who has thrice proposed legislation that would override local zoning to allow denser housing near transit, is back with a plan that takes “a lighter touch” and is aimed at suburbs. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • “I’ve never seen a guy get better at 35 in sports,” Doc Rivers, the coach of the Clippers, said of LeBron James. And yet. [The New York Times]


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.

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