The day before disembarkation is traditionally the sad day on a cruise. The day when everything is coming to an end. Sure, there might be activities going on, but in the back of your mind you always know that it’s the final day.
In this case, things weren’t quite as sad, though. It was Thursday April 14th, my sister’s birthday. We were going to celebrate at Toscana’s tonight. Also, like many of the other cruisers on this particular voyage of the Oceania Riviera, we weren’t going right home. As you might recall, the vast majority of people on the ship were repeat cruisers, probably because they were the ones chomping at the bit to cruise again as soon as restrictions lifted. So a fair number of them had booked back-to-back cruises and were going to just keep on cruising for another week or two. Another large group of them were going to hang out in Italy for a while to enjoy Italy before heading back home. So there were only a smaller proportion of people who were planning to wake up Friday morning, go right to the airport, and fly home.
For those people planning to fly Friday morning, they needed a COVID test done today to be legally able to fly. Italy itself didn’t have any COVID test requirements for entry, but the airports did have COVID test requirements to fly. So Oceania offered free early-morning testing only to those people about to fly tomorrow morning. My mom, my sister, and I were going to stay in Italy through Easter weekend, so we weren’t part of the testing round, which took place early morning Thursday. Instead, I woke up, wished my sister a happy birthday, grabbed some pieces of fruit for breakfast, and then headed down to my 9am art class.
We had the usual group of 8 or so people in the class, all happily working on shading and contrast and so on. The room is a big one, with room air filters to handle the charcoal and such, and there is plenty of distancing there. We all wore masks all the time. It was one of the safest places on the ship.
A strange announcement came over the intercom. They called out the names of six or so people and asked those people to please call reception. Soon, two of the women in our class were on their phones texting their husbands. It turns out both husbands had tested positive for COVID. We soon realized that after the tests had been done, the ship had first called peoples’ cabins to try to find them. Those who were in their cabins, Oceania told them to stay there. Those who were not in their cabins, the paging began to track them down.
Both women in class were NEGATIVE. Even so, they were being told to return to their cabins (with their positive-testing husbands) and to hunker down there. There was joking about the women simply abandoning their husbands so the women could continue to enjoy their trips, but the women of course loyally said they’d go and face this together.
Some people in the art class were quite surprised there was COVID on the ship. They felt, since we all came on testing negative, the ship would remain a ‘safe bubble’ until the end where we were all still negative. Given that we had all sorts of port calls throughout the trip, with people going on shore and mingling with locals, that ‘bubble’ theory seemed a bit naïve. Also, given how actively people on the ship were mingling and talking maskless with whoever happened to sit near them, it’s no surprise that as soon as one person picked up COVID on shore that it spread throughout the ship.
At the time we didn’t know it, but there had been COVID on the ship during its previous voyage. So it’s also quite possible that contaminated surfaces or such were simply waiting for us in our rooms when we arrived on board.
In any case, the two women gathered up their drawings, said goodbye to the rest of us, and headed down to their cabins to join their COVID-infected husbands.
I texted my mom and sister to let them know the situation. Others in class were texting their partners. So word was spreading on the ship – but the ship crew themselves never said ANYTHING to passengers to let them know they might want to be extra cautious right now.
Once class was over, I headed back to our cabin. One of the woman whose husband had tested positive was the woman who had sat next to Jenn for the second half of the trolley ride yesterday. Again, that woman was negative. It was highly unlikely that she was so-low-positive-to-be-testing-negative while at the same time that she was high-positive-enough-to-be-infectious.
Still, Jenn was thinking about the way she’d been sick a few days ago – unable to go with me on Lanzarote’s volcano tour. She wanted to get tested, to know either way. This was our last chance for a free test. Once we landed on Italian soil, the only way to get tested was to track down a local pharmacy with a testing option (during Easter weekend) and to pay about 30 euros for a test to be done.
Jenn called down to reception.
Reception wasn’t keen to test her. Jenn had to make the case that she’d sat next to a known close-contact-COVID person (the art class woman) and that meant she SHOULD be tested. Finally, reception agreed to send up a nurse to test me and my sister. They would do Jenn with a PCR test and me just with the swab test.
The medical person came to our room. They asked Jenn questions about her symptoms and so on. They did a full test on her. For me, they barely stuck a swab in my nose for zero-point-five milliseconds before they were done. Back in the states, a swab involves gently swirling the swab for fifteen seconds around each nostril in the lower nose to get a full sample. So I was a bit iffy about their testing protocol for me. It was as if they didn’t really want to get a positive result.
This was about 11am.
I asked if I should remain in the room, and they said no. They’d contact us eventually with results. That must have been what they did with the people they tested in the morning.
Jenn chose to stay in the cabin. I was starving, and I’d not had symptoms at all, so Mom and I went to the main dining room for a quick salad lunch. After that I went back to the cabin. Jenn and I ran some laundry again (the laundry room was empty), to prepare for our days in Rome, either way. Free clean laundry could be quite important, at this point.
The ship was being decorated for Easter, which was in three days.
It was 4pm tea time. I was very iffy about going to a ‘maskless social event’ before I knew my status, even though I felt healthy. But this was the last chance to say goodbye to the two friends we’d spent time with during the cruise. So I stopped in briefly and wore my mask the entire time, to say goodbye to them and to let them know the situation.
Now it was 5pm and time for the final art class. I always sat in the back corner, away from people, and everyone ALWAYS wore their masks. The room has strong air filters. So I felt OK going in, so I could get my artwork and any final notes the teacher had. I had barely gotten to the art room when I got the text from Jenn that she’d tested positive and that they wouldn’t tell Jenn my results. Since I wasn’t being paged we assumed I was negative, but it was better for me to come down to the room to be sure.
I told the class the situation, gathered up my items, said goodbye, and headed back to the cabin.
It took some tracking down, but I finally was able to contact someone to determine that I was negative. Doctors came to check Jenn out for her various vitals. At no point did they suggest to her anything about medication / antivirals other than I believe a generic headache kind of pill.
Our current travel plans were to disembark in Italy at Civitavecchia, take a prearranged taxi the hour or so into Rome, and stay at a rental apartment there until Tuesday. Then we would fly home. Now we didn’t know when Jenn would be free to fly.
Oceania said if she wanted that Jenn could still take the normal taxi we had ordered (???) to the Rome apartment we were renting and just hang out there with us as a quarantine (???). Didn’t they think the taxi driver and the apartment rental people might be concerned about having COVID-infected people in their vehicles and rooms without any real warning?
Jenn said, no, if the alternative is you provide a free hotel room, I’ll go with that. That would ensure she had somewhere past Tuesday to stay if need be, and food. It also ensure that they would be actively engaged in terms of figuring out the new flight home and such (which we’d booked through Oceania).
Jenn likes to ask a lot of questions (I say this in a good way). Through her prodding she found out the name of the hotel they’d be putting her into – the Golden Tulip in Rome. This is where they’d be taking all the COVID patients who opted for the Oceania hotel choice. She got other details, too. The ONLY reason she knew any of this was because she kept asking. The other COVID patients had no idea what the plan was. When the other patients woke up Friday morning they had no idea where they were going to be taken. Jenn had to tell them all in the van where they were going and what the situation was. Some thought they were staying in Civitavecchia rather than being taken to Rome. Communication to patients and family members was *horrible*.
So at this point Jenn was very stressed (as you might imagine). She couldn’t go to Toscana. So I called room service and asked them to please deliver down Jenn’s birthday dinner, so at least she could eat it here. They refused, even with Jenn having COVID and it being her birthday. They said she could only order off the normal room service menu. I did finally get them to agree to send down her birthday cake.
It seems the Oceania policy would still be to let me roam the ship, which I found baffling. I’d been in Jenn’s cabin right alongside her for nine days straight. In any case, I didn’t want to leave Jenn for her birthday dinner. So Mom went up to Toscana alone. Jenn and I ordered room service and had her birthday dinner with cake there in the room.
Let me note that it didn’t seem like they told room service at all that there was a COVID patient in the room! We tried to stay away from the delivery person, but he simply delivered the food as usual. We had the same issues with the cabin crew which happily tried to do cabin cleaning things while we were in there. There absolutely needs to be more communication within the crew so the crew knows to take stronger precautions when dealing with known-positive COVID patients – both for the crew members’ health and also for the other passengers those crew members next come in contact with.
Jenn was worried about me catching COVID the longer I was in the room with her, so we asked reception if I could be moved to another room just for the night. They said no, there were no rooms available (????). This seems really bizarre. The last thing they would want was to RAISE their COVID rates by infecting even more people. But I talked to Mom and moved into her room instead, which also was concerning, since she is at-risk health-wise.
Now we had Jenn alone in her cabin and me and Mom in the cabin next door. We did not have any paperwork at this point about our tests. Everything was verbal.
I had a teen class to teach at 9pm ship time, so I did that in an abandoned area near Baristas. There was absolutely nobody around me as I taught it, so no ‘contact’ issues. The WiFi failed near the end of the class. I guess I’m grateful that it survived until the last ten minutes, so I got most of the class done.
Then I went back to Mom’s room.
So the situation on Thursday night was that we knew we were all going to Rome. Jenn would go with the COVID-infected people in a van, handled by Oceania. Mom and I would take our pre-arranged taxi to the apartment in Rome. The two locations in Rome were fairly close to each other. We all had phones with tracking dots, so we could know exactly where each other was. We would stay in touch. If Mom and I had to fly out first, and then Jenn flew out once she was cleared to fly, Oceania would take care of rearranging her flight and housing her / feeding her until then.
So we settled into this new normal. Jenn’s symptoms were mild. She would be watched over. Oceania would shepherd her through the next days. We assumed she was on the tail end of her COVID infection and should be fine shortly.
Mom and I went to sleep.
Ask with any questions!
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