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Passengers on Grand Princess cruise ship sent home

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It’s the longest “vacation” they’ve ever taken.

Nearly five weeks after setting sail on a luxury cruise to Hawaii, a voyage interrupted by an outbreak of coronavirus on board that led to a week of being quarantined in ship berths followed by two weeks isolated in rooms on a military base, hundreds of Grand Princess passengers have been allowed to go home.

Santa Rosa pastor Barney Cargile and his six family members were among 43 Sonoma County residents led off the ship in the Port of Oakland and taken to Travis Air Force Base, where their temperatures were taken twice each day as they waited for 14 days to pass — the window an infection might develop among people exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Today, they are healthy and home.

“We kind of went from quarantine to quarantine,” said Cargile, a rural Sebastopol resident and pastor at Santa Rosa Christian Church.

Passengers were supposed to be home March 7, but instead returned this week to overgrown lawns, clocks still on standard time and communities under mandatory government isolation orders to avoid being out in public, a drastic statewide move aimed at preventing people from spreading the virus to others.

The Cargiles, like many passengers — including the Hopkinses of Graton — opted against taking a test for the disease. All said they had their temperatures checked twice a day and had no symptoms of illness, so tests were optional. Cargile said he’d seen news reports that there was a shortage of supplies needed to administer tests and felt his family had been isolated beyond the 14-day period when experts say people will develop symptoms.

“We had been quarantined already for a week on the ship and two weeks total at Travis — there are people who really need the test,” Cargile said.

Most of the about 900 Californians from the ill-fated cruise that embarked Feb. 21 from the Port of San Francisco are returning home this week.

The outbreak appears to have started with an earlier voyage the same ship took from San Francisco to Mexico Feb. 11 to Feb. 21, with some of the same staff and about 70 passengers continuing on to Hawaii. One passenger from that cruise, a man in his 60s with health conditions that made him vulnerable to COVID-19, died Friday from the disease at Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Center.

Another Sonoma County passenger from the earlier trip also contracted the disease and was hospitalized. Public health and hospital officials would not comment on that person’s condition.

Hundreds more are now going home after an ordeal marked by anticipation, worry and waiting akin to none.

“It’s all been one long not necessarily happy vacation,” Terry Hopkins said.

Hopkins and his wife, Sheryl Hopkins, got home Tuesday after being bused to a train station and picked up by their daughter. They stopped at Costco for supplies and were home in time to make a pot of fresh clam chowder — a welcome delight for their taste buds after enduring an unchanging menu of turkey sandwiches and too little coffee.

They’ve slept in their own bed and reconnected with their church congregation through video conferencing. Wednesday, Hopkins sat down to his computer to pay the bills, a welcome chore after a surreal and uncertain time.

“We survived the ordeal,” Hopkins said.

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

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