HONOLULU (KHON2) — Following a 15-day Hawaiian cruise sailing roundtrip from Los Angeles, one passenger is speaking out about her quarantine experience after she and her 84-year-old mother tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s like we were put in here and the key was thrown away and we are in Princess cruise jail now,” Vicki Herbers said. “That’s exactly what it feels like. There’s no numbers to call whoever we need to call.”

Herbers, 62, from Riverside County in California, said this was her fourth cruise with her mom. Their last time was either in 2018 or 2019. Back then, the protocols were much better than what she witnessed on the Grand Princess cruise ship that sailed in early April.

“I think it might be my last time because of this experience,” said Herbers.

Herbers and her mom are both vaccinated and boosted. They had to test two days before they got on the ship to show that they were negative, but that didn’t prevent them from catching the virus toward the end of their trip.

On Thursday, April 14, her mom began experiencing allergy symptoms. They didn’t think anything of it at that point, but during the night, her mom started coughing and hallucinating.

“She was fine in the morning, so we went down and had some breakfast… and I could not stay awake. I just kept falling asleep,” Herbers said.

Later that night, they both were coughing. They also had headaches and body aches. When she took her mom to medical, they got tested: Her mom was positive but she was negative. Herbers asked if she could be quarantined with her mom so she could take care of her.

“My mom is older and she couldn’t hear at all with the COVID, like whatever little hearing she had left. So she wouldn’t hear someone coming into the door, she wouldn’t hear the phone ringing… So I was like, you have to let me in there with her. There’s no way. I take care of her,” she said.

They weren’t allowed to leave quarantine, but the next day when Herbers called to ask when they would get tested again, no one would answer. She later found out that all medical staff go on a break for three and a half hours.

“There’s no way,” she said. “They told me there’s seven medical staff. They cannot all possibly go on a break at the same time.”

Herbers then tried to get some answers at the front desk, but they didn’t have any for her.

“I was just getting so frustrated. I said, ‘Okay, you can do this: You can tell the top person in medical — whoever oversees all of them — that I would like to speak with them because I’m an RN. This is not how you treat people,'” Herbers said.

Herbers recalled telling them they didn’t have any medication, Tylenol, cough syrup, or other items that would help ease their symptoms.

“I guess I raised enough of a ruckus that next thing I knew, a paramedic called me,” she said.

After she told him they didn’t have any medication, the paramedic brought supplies and explained they were all taking 30 patients and checking on them. Herbers told him that no one has ever checked in on them or even called.

“You can’t just leave people hanging for days with no care. Somebody has to be calling on people to make sure they’re alive, to see if they need anything or they’ve gotten worse. Perhaps they need to be incubated. I don’t know,” she said. “They don’t know any of that because they put you in there, and that’s it.”

KHON2 reached out to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see how many COVID-19 cases there were on the cruise, but they could not provide specific details.

Princess Cruises gave this statement:

“While we are not at liberty to disclose case counts on board, we continue to operate in accordance with the CDC, which monitors all cruise ships where there are positive cases identified on board.”

Princess Cruises

Herbers estimated at least 200 passengers were sick because the paramedic had told her that they each took 30 passengers to call, and there were seven medical personnel. KHON2 reached out to Princess to confirm how many medical staff were on board but did not receive a response.

“He also told me it was the biggest outbreak that they had since they started sailing again six months before,” she said.

Even though Herbers and her mom are boosted, this was the first time they got COVID.

“In all this time, a lot of my family members have had it, but somehow we have managed to escape it until we got on the dang cruise ship, which I knew it was a risk,” said Herbers, “and we weren’t too worried because we had been boosted and everything and we done all the things right, so I figured if we got it, it wasn’t going to be the worst thing in the world.”

Herbers added that she didn’t care about the fact she got COVID. What she’s upset about was the treatment.

“If they only have seven medical staff and they’re overburdened, I understand that,” she said, “but at the front desk, there’s all these officers, and there’s usually like eight of them standing there, but only three are helping guests. Why can’t they use some of them?”

Herbers has been a nurse for 17 years and has worked in the medical field for 40 years. She’d like to see the cruise do major improvements like having follow-up care: calling on each person that goes into quarantine at least twice a day, in the morning and then later in the afternoon or early evening.

“And that’s how it should be,” she said. “I mean, if you went to the hospital and you go into a COVID ward, they don’t just put you in a room and leave you. They have people coming in and checking you all day long. Now I understand with seven personnel they can’t do that, but they can make sure that somebody’s calling and checking in you and passing on that information.”

“They need to follow up and then follow through,” Herbers continued. “They have to check on the people and then follow through with what their needs are, and that’s going to be very individualized… You don’t know if these people are dead or alive the day that you’re coming to let them out and say, ‘Go to shore!’ Nobody’s checked on them, so how do you know?”

On April 21, Princess Cruises gave KHON2 this statement:

“Princess is saddened to confirm the passing of a 71-year-old passenger who sailed on Grand Princess 15-day Hawaiian cruise, sailing roundtrip from Los Angeles, from April 4 to April 19, 2022. Cause of death cannot be confirmed based on the information provided to us. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of this guest.” 

Princess Cruises

“That’s what just gets me is that nobody cared to check on any of us at all, and that is inhumane and disgusting as far as I’m concerned, and I’m pretty shocked of that from Princess,” said Herbers. “I didn’t expect that at all. I want the higher-ups to know you can’t do that. You can’t do it on this ship and you can’t do it on any of your ships ’cause supposedly what’s going on in this ship is what’s happening with the whole fleet, and I want all of ’em to take better care of people that are in lockdown.”

According to the CDC’s website, the public health agency is investigating Grand Princess, Ruby Princess, Caribbean Princess, Discovery Princess and Majestic Princess. These ships remain under observation.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) told KHON2 that 18 cruises have visited Hawaii so far, with some repeat ships like Ruby Princess and Grand Princess. However, HDOT didn’t disclose how many of these cruise lines had COVID cases.

FILE — In this March 9, 2020, file photo, passengers aboard the Grand Princess celebrate as they arrive in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

On Wednesday, April 27, state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble shared in a news conference that with the cruising industry resuming again and coming to the islands, there’s been a long process of many months to get ready for that.

“So there are memorandums of agreements in place with the various cruise lines that are coming to Hawaii ports and that includes clauses to make sure that the companies are going to be responsible for tracking cases on board, reporting them to us and also taking care of accommodations and needs for isolation and medical transport should they arrive,” Dr. Kemble said.

She added that it’s a different situation than what happened in 2020 — many of the cruise lines now are instituting very high bars for vaccination and testing before people come aboard.

“This year we are still seeing cases detected aboard cruise lines, but we are not seeing the same degree of medical need related to those cases, and I think a lot of that is attributable to the high vaccination coverage rates on board.”

Dr. Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist

The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) provided numbers that support this.

COVID cases on Hawaii-San Francisco cruise

FILE — People stand on a pier outside the Ruby Princess cruise ship and wait to be picked up in San Francisco, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

According to the SFDPH, there were 143 COVID cases for the April 11 trip and 37 for the April 23 trip aboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship.

In a statement sent to KHON2, the SFDPH said the following:

“The vaccination rate for the Ruby Princess’ April 11 trip was 100% for both crew and guests. For the trip that docked in San Francisco on April 23, the vaccination rate was 100% for the crew and 99% for guests. The vast majority of individuals who tested positive for COVID experienced mild or no symptoms. Only one person on the April 11 trip was hospitalized, which speaks to the incredible efficacy of vaccination.

San Francisco Department of Public Health

SFDPH reported that cruise operations in San Francisco resumed safely in strict compliance with all applicable CDC rules and regulations. SFDPH, the Port of San Francisco and individual cruise lines partnered to develop memoranda of agreement (MOA) for all vessels calling in San Francisco.

“Included in the MOU are specific requirements in San Francisco that 95% of the crew and passengers disembarking in the City are fully vaccinated in order to decrease the risk of severe illness among cruise passengers arriving into the City,” SFDPH told KHON2. “San Francisco has coordinated with other California port jurisdictions to require that 95% of crew and passengers be fully vaccinated.”

Click here to see the CDC’s COVID-19 program for cruise ships.