Burt Quick, a retired California police chief, took a cruise with his wife last winter only to be quarantined on the ship for five days when other passengers got sick with COVID-19. Quick and his wife then spent two weeks quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia along with hundreds of other cruise ship passengers. Quick joins The Daily Signal Podcast to recount his experience.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Burt Quick, a retired police chief from California. Mr. Quick, thanks so much for being here.
Burt Quick: Thank you for having me.
Allen: Mr. Quick, you went on a cruise in March. It was a Grand Princess cruise ship, and you ended up getting quarantined on that ship due to COVID-19. So, I want to hear the whole story, but let’s begin at the very beginning.
In March, we were seeing that some cruise ships were undergoing quarantines and getting stuck out to sea because of COVID-19. But you and your wife made the choice that you still wanted to take the vacation. You wanted to go on the cruise, and you really had good reason for deciding to still make that choice to go.
Can you explain why you all felt confident that “we’re going to go and we’re going to be fine”?
Quick: Well, yes. Actually, the cruise didn’t start until Feb. 21. That was the first day. Feb. 21 was the first day of the cruise.
Approximately two to three weeks prior to that, we had received a letter from Princess Cruises. They called it an emergency alert.
And on that, they indicated that if anyone had been to Wuhan, China, or had been associated with anybody in that area, or from China, that they were not allowing them to board the ship.
And, … going back just a little bit, we had actually booked the cruise in December of 2019. … And … once we started hearing that there was a COVID-19 issue, we started discussing the issue. When I say we, [I mean] my wife and I.
We decided that after receiving this emergency alert, that we felt that Princess Cruises would be more focused and more determined to make sure that their passengers, as well as crew members, were going to be safe and well taken care of. So then we decided to go on the cruise.
Allen: Right. And obviously, things didn’t quite work out the way you had planned. So how long after getting on the boat and setting sail, so to speak, did it come to light that someone on the ship was sick?
Quick: Actually, what had happened was it was a 15-day cruise. And again, the cruise began in San Francisco on the 21st of February.
The cruise would then sail to Hawaii and hit the different islands in Hawaii, and then return back to San Francisco via Ensenada, Mexico. It took approximately five to six days to traverse from San Francisco to the Hawaiian islands.
Once we had arrived on the islands, as far as the cruise ship is concerned, my wife and I started noticing that people had begun to cough. And then we also noticed that some of the staff members began with what I would term a dry cough.
So we really didn’t pay that much attention to it at the time, although we did take precautions prior to leaving.
We had taken sanitizing wipes with us, so we sanitized the inside of our cabin, as well as gloves, to make sure that everything that we touched had been sanitized.
Approximately the third or fourth day in the Hawaiian Islands, we started noticing when we’d go to dinner—because we dined in the restaurants and not in the buffet, … people [there] were normally filling tables—that the occupancy of those tables began to reduce itself.
So on the fifth day of cruising the Hawaiian Islands, I noticed that one of the staff members that would serve us our drinks and food, etc., was not there. So I asked the other attendant why this person wasn’t there. Then they told me, “Well, he had gotten sick and he’s in the hospital on board the ship.”
So we again were concerned, but, obviously, we’re on this cruise now, and we just made sure that we took all the precautions that we needed to take.
Of course, the one big thing that we did was pray each day. We felt that we needed God’s protection on everything we did. And we needed the wisdom to know exactly what we should do to make sure that we were safe and taken care of.
So that’s when we first started noticing that there was an issue with the dry coughs and then the absence of one of our servers.
Allen: [Were] there regular health checks at all being done on the ship? I mean, were temperatures being take every day? Or were you all asked to go to a certain part of the ship if you did start feeling sick? What was the communication at that point between the cruise ship and the passengers?
Quick: Actually, there [were] no temperatures that were taken at all.
When I alluded to the emergency alert letter that Princess Cruises sent out prior to the cruise, they indicated on that they were taking advanced health checks or measures, and they would be making sure that the passengers were safe and secure.
When we arrived at the port to board the ship, the only thing heath wise that we saw was the one-page question and answer sheet that we filled out.
So it was left up to the passengers to make the decision, were they going to tell the truth or not tell the truth?
Once the sheet was filled out, then you were processed through the remainder of the staff in reference to your boarding and your cabin assignment and so on and so forth.
So yes, there [were] no temperatures that were taken. There was no information regarding any health measures that we could take at that time.
Allen: Wow. So then when did the ship start communicating that and saying, “Hey, it’s official, we have people on board that have COVID-19. And now this is what we’re going to do”?
Quick: Well, that was never stated. What was stated was once we had completed the cruise of the islands, we were then going to be sailing to Ensenada, Mexico. And as we left the islands and began directing our passage toward Ensenada, the captain did come on the air and advised us that they were going to be bypassing Ensenada and going directly to San Francisco. So that was the first indication that there was a real issue.
And then we received a letter via the ship that we would be given a reimbursement of $300 due to the fact that we were not going to be going to Ensenada, Mexico, and that we were going directly to San Francisco.
Allen: OK, OK. But you all didn’t quite make it back to San Francisco. What happened?
Quick: As we progressed toward San Francisco, I would suspect, because you don’t know how far you’re really out from shore and everything, but I would suspect that when we were approximately 200 or 300 miles offshore, we waited there. And now we are talking approximately the 13th, 14th day of the cruise …
Allen: And how long was the cruise originally supposed to be?
Quick: It was 15 days.
Quick: So about the 14th day, we were notified that San Francisco was not allowing us to dock at their port. And so we had to remain out in the Pacific. And from what the captain stated to us, we were approximately 55, 60 miles offshore.
Once that occurred, we were notified again over the ship’s PA system that the top portion of the ship, the passengers were asked to either stay in the cabins or be removed and down to a couple lower decks because they were having a Coast Guard helicopter flying in with medical supplies and testing kits.
When that did occur and that was done, then the following day, which would’ve been the 15th day, we were advised by the captain again because of logistics for the Coast Guard and the ship that the Coast Guard wanted us to come in closer to the shore, so we went in approximately 25 miles from shore.
Then that’s when they sent a Coast Guard cutter out and they started transporting from the ship to the Coast Guard cutter patients that were ill. And so they began that process.
Once they had completed that process … and again, this has been a couple months ago now, but it was either the 15th or 16th day, that’s when we finally got word that we were going to be going into Oakland and we were going to be docking at their port in Oakland, California.
Allen: OK. But after you all docked, you weren’t able to go home yet. And you actually ended up being flown with a number of other passengers from that cruise ship to a federal Air Force base, Dobbins Air [Reserve] Base in Marietta, Georgia, where you were quarantined for two weeks. So tell me a little bit about that experience.
Quick: OK. Well, we were also quarantined on the ship. So on the 15th, 16th day, we were quarantined to our cabins and we could not leave our cabins. This is on board the ship. And so all of our meals were brought to our cabin, and as well as the fact that the ship now had issued masks to all the passengers.
So basically, the process was, when someone would knock on the door, you would put your mask on, open the door, and you would see your food on a tray on the floor in the hallway. And so that process was done for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while we were on board the ship. And so we were on board the ship until the 11th of March in quarantine process.
Now, there was one day when we were allowed about 45 minutes to go out onto the lower deck. We were on the eighth, and we were allowed to go onto the seventh deck, the lower deck, and walk around the ship for about 30 to 40 minutes. And there were limited people that were allowed to do that.
Then on the 11th, that’s when we were called, and we were notified that we would be leaving the ship.
So my wife and I then went down to the area in which we were going to be disembarking and went through a process where we left the ship and went into a tent area where we were questioned by [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [Department of Health and Human Services] personnel.
And then from there, after they received our information, they took our temperature. And then from there, we boarded buses.
Once the buses were full, we were transported via California Highway Patrol escort over to Oakland International Airport, where the buses drove onto the tarmac and toward federal planes, which we were subsequently boarding.
Allen: What was going through your head at that point? I mean, you’ve just been quarantined on the ship for five days, and you’re not getting to go home. You’re getting ready to step onto an airplane and go to Georgia to be quarantined. What are you and your wife saying to each other? What are you all thinking?
Quick: Well, we originally came from San Diego. And the captain had notified us via, again, the PA system that the California residents would be going to either Travis Air Force Base or Miramar Marine Air Station in San Diego.
Well, coming from San Diego, I was hoping that we would be able to do that because our family is in San Diego, and so we obviously knew San Diego very, very well, as well as Miramar, and that non-California residents, U.S. residents, would be either going to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, or Dobbins Air [Reserve] Base in Marietta, Georgia.
Of course, you hear rumors, well, the more severe cases are going to be going to Marietta, Georgia, because of CDC headquarters being in Georgia. So we figured, OK, that’s probably where the more severe cases were going to be going.
So it was a surprise to us when we discovered that once we were aboard the plane and taking off that we were going to be going to Dobbins Air [Reserve] Base because my wife and I were never sick through this whole ordeal.
As it turned out, once we arrived at about 12:30 in the morning at Dobbins Air [Reserve] Base … and by the way, they did an outstanding [job], the CDC and HHS personnel who came in from all over the United States to take care of the passengers that were on board this cruise ship.
So they processed us. We finally got to our room around 3, 3:30 in the morning, and of course took showers and then went to bed. …
My wife and have always used the term that whatever thing we go on we call it an adventure. We want to make it something positive versus negative.
[If] you’re driving down the road and you make a wrong turn, my wife would say, “Oh, we’re on an adventure.” It would be one of those things. So it was always an adventure.
So we took it in a positive way. We didn’t want to stay negative because we knew negative thoughts were not going to help, were not going to be helpful, and we wanted to stay positive. So it was always an adventure for us.
Allen: Wow. I love that. That’s the right attitude to have. So during those 14 days that you spent there, you were on the Air Force base with several hundred other passengers who had been on the cruise ship. What did you all do during those 14 days? Were you pretty much confined to your room or could you get out and talk with other passengers? What did that look like?
Quick: We were again issued the masks that we had on board the ship. So … once we arrived, the next morning, they had a briefing, but they weren’t prepared for the briefing because they held it outside with several hundred passengers.
We were in a contained area because it was fenced off. And we were in what they would term the officer quarters. Basically, the quarters themselves would be like a studio apartment. Once you open the door, the bedroom was right there, and so on and so forth.
The accommodations were nice. They definitely were nice.
But anyway, so we had this supposed meeting to advise us on what was going to be going on, and it just didn’t work. They didn’t have a PA system. They had a generator running. And they were on one side of a chain-link fence, we were on another. And it just didn’t work.
So they finally started doing telecommunications where we would receive information. But in reference to our movement, again, the area we were in was fenced off, and so we’re limited on where we could walk and how far we could walk.
We had access to leave our rooms and go out into the fresh air, which we did daily. And we also conversed with the CDC and HHS people.
Now, in reference to the daily assignments, what would happen is that you would have an HHS person that would come and take our temperature in the morning and then also in the evening.
All of our meals, and, of course, when they would knock on the door, like they did on the ship, we’d have to put our masks on, and then they would take our temperature. And then in addition to that, we also had all of our meals delivered to our rooms as well.
Again, it was a knock on the door and you would put your mask on and open the door. And then they would hand you your food and everything. And they did a great job. They were really diligent on what they did. And we have the highest regard for them.
Allen: Wow. And did any of those passengers who were quarantined there with you at Dobbins Air [Reserve] Base get sick or get diagnosed with COVID-19?
Quick: Well, there were approximately a total of 480 passengers that were there. And they came in different days because of the amount of people that were on board the ship and where they were going to be transported to and so on and so forth.
So, … from what we were told, we had approximately eight to 12 people at any given time during that 14-day process that were hospitalized. And we would see this information on the daily teleconferences that they had.
And we discovered, or they advised us, that there had been 12, and now it was reduced to nine. And then it was reduced to eight.
Now, in reference to the final outcome, we do not know how they fared. But out of the 480, there were approximately 12 that were reduced down to eight. So you can see that it was a very, very low percentage of personnel or passengers that were actually infected with COVID-19.
Allen: You had some interesting observations just about kind of best practices, both while you were transported and sitting close to people on the plane, and then during that quarantine on the Air Force base about just what was helpful regarding social distancing and hand washing. Could you share a little bit of that?
Quick: Absolutely. We found, and again, this was aboard the ship, … that the greatest thing that really contributed to health issues was the mental health.
When you quarantine in a cabin that’s approximately anywhere from 8 by 10 to 10 by 10, you start getting cabin fever. Even though you have access to hundreds of movies and television programs and things like that, you need to get out into the fresh air.
And once you got out into the fresh air … that one time when we were allowed to walk around the ship, you just felt a weight coming off your shoulders because it was like, “Oh, I can breathe. And I can really draw in the great fresh air and everything.”
So when we were at Dobbins, we made sure that we were out every day, several times during the day, to get into the fresh air because mental health is the main thing that can destroy your physical health. So we made sure that we did that.
Again, prior to leaving … I’m going to give an advertisement to Costco, we had gone to Costco and had purchased a box of sanitizing wipes. And you know Costco, everything’s large there. And so we had a large pack of sanitizing wipes.
So everywhere we went, either on the ship or at Dobbins, we always made sure everything was sanitized prior to doing anything that we did. And of course, … when we were at Dobbins walking around, we wore masks.
Social distancing was there, but I mean, you’re still walking around people. And quite honestly, there was CDC and HHS people, they were on one side of the chain-link fence, you were on the other. And they’re probably 6 to 10 feet away from you. Some of them didn’t wear masks, although the passengers were required to, some of the CDC and HHS people didn’t.
But social distancing, that was a term that we heard initially aboard the ship. And you can’t social distance when you’re on a bus. You can’t social distance when you’re on an airplane and you’re sitting next to people. There were three seats in a row that you don’t know. So it made it difficult to social [distance].
Again, we were on board the plane, we sanitized the things that we sat on and handled and things of that sort. And we wore gloves. And of course, gloves can still carry the bacteria as well. And so we made sure that we would sanitize our gloves that we had on, which saved our skin a lot of times as well. So those are the procedures that we did.
Allen: How did you all ultimately end up getting home when you were allowed to leave Dobbins?
Quick: Well, Princess Cruises advised us that they had set up a hotline in which we could call and set up our reservations to return home.
Now, prior to that, there were no tests that were given to any of the passengers because they didn’t have test kits at that time. But once they did get them, they did explain to us that they weren’t 100% accurate, and that you could test a false positive or false negative.
So they didn’t get the test kits until about the 10th or 11th day that we were there, and they were limited on the test kits. And basically, it was really for those folks who had the symptoms, where we didn’t have any of the symptoms. It was really for the folks who did.
So I had spoken to my wife and I said, “Look. These tests are not foolproof,” … because they advised us if we were to take the test and it came out positive, that we would have had to spend an additional 14 days there.
So it was like, “I don’t think that’s going to work for us.” We don’t have the symptoms. And the incubation period was a 14-day period, and we’re going to be there for the 14 days anyway. So if the virus did manifest itself during that time period, obviously, we would still be there, and it didn’t.
So we did call the hotline, Princess Cruise hotline. We did set up our reservations with Delta. And then eventually, we were transported down to Atlanta International, where we then flew out on Delta Airlines.
That flew us to Salt Lake. And then from Salt Lake to Spokane, that’s our closest airport. And then from Spokane, Washington, we then drove home.
Allen: Wow, quite the journey, and certainly not what you and your wife I’m sure expected when you set out on your cruise in February. Do you think that maybe, in a couple of years, you would consider going on a cruise again?
Quick: My wife wants to go on another adventure cruise.
Allen: That’s great. Well, I guess if she’s up for it, then that means you have to be.
Quick: Yeah, exactly. … Let me just say this one thing: I will never do an inside or an ocean view cabin again because you never know when that ship’s going to be going under quarantine. But if you have a balcony, which obviously costs more, … you can get out onto the balcony and get the fresh air.
The fresh air is the main thing that you want. That’s why it’s so disturbing to me to see all these beaches that are closed. … To me, that’s the wrong thing because people need the fresh air. They need to get out and breathe fresh air for the mental health, for their physical health. And so I would definitely get a balcony or a suite cabin from this point on.
Allen: Well, Mr. Quick, we certainly wish you better fortune on your next vacation.
Quick: Thank you.
Allen: But we’re glad that you were able to look at it as an adventure and keep that positive attitude.
Allen: We really appreciate your time today and you just taking the time to tell your story.
Quick: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you so much. And you have a great day.