Ga. given permission to help return home 31 cruise ship passengers

Ga. given permission to help return home 31 cruise ship passengers

Georgia has been given federal permission to help return home 31 state residents who have been quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta since their cruise ship was hit by the coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Saturday.

“The state now has permission to transfer the Georgians at Dobbins to their homes as soon as possible,” Kemp said in a post on Twitter, adding officials from the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, state Department of Health and Georgia National Guard are on base “to assist with safe transfer.”

Nearly 500 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship have been sent to Dobbins, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday. Some have complained about the conditions there. 

Gail Egan, 62, an optician from Homer Glen, Ill., said she arrived at Dobbins with her sister and two friends early Friday morning. She expects all of them must remain there at least until March 27, the end of their 14-day quarantine, though she said they all feel fine. She added she is thrilled for the Georgians who will be returning home from Dobbins, “but it is heartbreaking for us.” Egan called the conditions at Dobbins “deplorable,” “foul” and “nasty.” 

“When we first got here… there was no toilet paper, no soap, no towels, no shampoo. None of the basic things you need,” she said. “We still do not have our luggage. We were delivered toilet paper eight hours after we got here. We were delivered soap and shampoo about two hours ago today.” 

“I am sure none of us will be sick from the virus,” she continued, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get something from the unsanitary conditions in here. It is so filthy. It is unbelievable. I wouldn’t wash my dog in the showers here.” 

Egan said she won’t request being tested for COVID-19 at Dobbins because she doesn’t want to be found positive and kept there indefinitely. 

“This is not the place to be held,” she said. “If I don’t ask for the test, I will go home. And if I think I have symptoms or if I think I have any doubt, I would get tested at home where I know I will be in a clean, sanitary facility.”

Dobbins has referred questions to the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A spokesman for the CDC said in an email Saturday that a division of HHS in charges of operations at Dobbins.

“The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is in charge of this operation. CDC is providing assistance, but is not in charge,” CDC spokesman Bert Kelly wrote.

The Georgia passengers live across the state, according to Kemp’s office, including in: Acworth, Augusta, Byron, Centerville, Chatsworth, Dallas, Evans, Hoschton, LaFayette, Marietta, McDonough, Powder Springs, Senoia, Summerville, Tennille, Valdosta, Warner Robins and Woodstock.

RELATED: Nearly 500 cruise ship passengers have arrived in Georgia.

The return process is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. State health officials are emailing each of them quarantine instructions. Local public health officials will get involved once they are released to go home.

A total of 21 people aboard the cruise ship tested positive for the COVID-19 infection, Vice President Mike Pence said last week during a Coronavirus Task Force press briefing. Of those, 19 were crew members and two were passengers.

Carnival’s Princess Cruises on Thursday became the second cruise line to announce it was shutting down operations due to the global outbreak. The company said it would halt operations of its entire fleet of ships for two months, according to CNBC.

The passengers arriving in Georgia are asymptomatic, Dobbins officials said Thursday in a news release.

“Prior to arriving here, the passengers were medically screened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” officials said. “Quarantined individuals do not show symptoms of illness and are quarantined as a precaution.”

Should any of the quarantined passengers be diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease, procedures are in place to transport them to a hospital in the area.

Col. Craig McPike, the Dobbins installation commander, said the base’s primary responsibilities remain the same as it provides support to the Department of Health and Human Services, the lead federal agency in the operation.