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Coronavirus: Nearly 500 cruise ship passengers have arrived in Georgia

March 12, 2020 Marietta: A pair of women behind a blackened fence where quarantined Grand Princess cruise ship passengers are isolated in a housing area at Dobbins Air Reserve Base on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Marietta. 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, said Col. Craig McPike, Dobbins installation commander. The passengers who were asymptomatic were transferred here and other federal military installations for COVID-19 testing and quarantine.” Should any individuals be identified as ill during their quarantine period, the Department of Health & Human Services, the lead federal agency, has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian hospital. CDC is fully responsible for all aspects of the quarantine operation, and Dobbins personnel will have no contact with these passengers. By providing this support, Dobbins ARB is helping to protect the health of Americans by preventing the spread of the virus. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
March 12, 2020 Marietta: A pair of women behind a blackened fence where quarantined Grand Princess cruise ship passengers are isolated in a housing area at Dobbins Air Reserve Base on Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Marietta. 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, said Col. Craig McPike, Dobbins installation commander. The passengers who were asymptomatic were transferred here and other federal military installations for COVID-19 testing and quarantine.” Should any individuals be identified as ill during their quarantine period, the Department of Health & Human Services, the lead federal agency, has procedures in place to transport them to a local civilian hospital. CDC is fully responsible for all aspects of the quarantine operation, and Dobbins personnel will have no contact with these passengers. By providing this support, Dobbins ARB is helping to protect the health of Americans by preventing the spread of the virus. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Passengers to be quarantined at Dobbins Air Reserve Base

Two more planeloads of passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship hit by the coronavirus have arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, bringing the total quarantined there to 499, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday.

It’s unknown precisely how the military installation is accommodating all of them. There is space for 151 at Dobbins, Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden Jr., Georgia’s adjutant general, told reporters this week at the state Capitol. The Georgia National Guard, which is headquartered at Dobbins, has space for 190 more, he added. To make way for the passengers, more than 100 Guardsmen have been displaced.

Dobbins referred questions to the CDC.

Most of the passengers will be quarantined at Dobbins until March 24 or March 25, Bert Kelly, a spokesman for the CDC said in an email.

“Any healthcare workers involved in working with these passengers are wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and monitoring for any signs of illness,” Kelly said.

Explore RELATED: Quarantined cruise ship passengers arrive at Dobbins after coronavirus outbreak

Don Curran, who lives in Michigan, and the friend he traveled with arrived at Dobbins in the early-morning hours Friday. It was after 5 a.m. when they finally climbed into bed. Their suite, which Curran says is similar to a college dorm, has one bed and one pillow for the two men. And though there’s a small kitchen and a washer and dryer, the two have no access to food or laundry detergent.

“I’m just flabbergasted,” Curran said Friday evening. “I’ve never seen such a horrible response.”

The two were able to get a breakfast sandwich, but nothing else during the day. Curran says he’s not sure when he’ll be allowed to return home. He’s been told he will be reevaluated for symptoms 72 hours after getting off the ship Thursday.

Barb May and her husband arrived at Dobbins Friday morning. It’s been nearly a month since they left for their cruise to Hawaii, and they’ll be away from their home in Bloomington, Ill., for at least two more weeks. Barb May, 63, has relied on social media to stay in touch with her two daughters and granddaughters. The interactions have helped keep her spirits up amid continued uncertainty.

“There’s a lot of questions,” she said. “But they’re doing the best that they can.”

May said neither she or her husband have been tested for the coronavirus and don’t know when that will happen. Physically, they both feel well.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” she said. “There was a lot of anxiety when they left the ship.”

The rooms at Dobbins are bigger, and they can get out and walk around, provided they wear their masks.

“I don’t know who’s in charge of us,” Barb May said. “We’ve gotten documents saying they have the right to quarantine us. So that’s a little scary.”

May said she worries about some of the elderly passengers who are also at Dobbins.

“I really feel for them.”

Don Yarbro, 66, is among those quarantined at Dobbins. In a phone interview Friday, he said he is mostly confined to a motel-style room on base, where workers in hazmat suits and face masks knock on the door to deliver meals and check his temperature twice a day. Yarbro, who went with his wife and about 15 friends on the cruise ship, said he and his friends have not been tested for coronavirus. All of them feel fine but worry that could change.

“I’ve asked about it about every day,” the Kings Mountain, N.C., trucking business owner said. “Why can’t we go ahead and get tested? If you test negative, that makes you feel better.”

Yarbro, a diabetic, said he and others at the base have not yet received medicine they’ve requested from workers. He is almost out of insulin and test strips, and has no blood pressure pills left. To keep his blood pressure down, he’s trying not to worry, which is tough in his situation.

His wife, Lynn, who survived stage four lung cancer by having most of one lung removed a few years back, is quarantined at a hotel FEMA has taken over in Oakland, Calif. She had to be hospitalized for bronchitis after the ship returned from its Feb. 21 voyage to Hawaii and later tested negative for coronavirus, the husband said. He said her doctor asked that she not be sent to Dobbins because of concern that she could be exposed to the virus there.

Yarbro said some of his fellow passengers quarantined at the base expressed complaints about medicine at a town hall meeting Thursday. Yarbro understands the frustration, but he also thinks the workers helping at Dobbins are doing their best with a difficult situation.

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.

The CDC is responsible for all aspects of the quarantine operation, and Dobbins personnel will have no contact with the passengers, according to the air reserve base.

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.

Staff writers Alexis Stevens and Chelsea Prince contributed to this report.