Coloradans are stranded abroad as coronavirus disrupts global travel

When Steven and Carol Ditmer boarded a cruise ship in Auckland, New Zealand, bound for the Pacific Islands, they were expecting the trip of a lifetime. But as the boat moved across the ocean, the circumstances around coronavirus quickly escalated.

The Highlands Ranch couple began their five-week cruise on the Holland America Maasdam on March 1. Ten days later, the World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic, and soon their liner wasn’t being welcomed to dock at ports along its journey, Steven said.

After it was clear their voyage would be cut short, the Ditmers booked flights to Denver, first from Hilo, Hawaii, and then from Honolulu. But so far, they have not been allowed to disembark at either port, despite the fact none of the ship’s passengers are suspected of being sick.

“Our ship is moving at this slow speed, and the world and decisions are moving at a much faster speed with all this COVID-19,” Steven Ditmer said by phone.

As many Coloradans practice social distancing cooped up in their homes, some are stranded around the world and doing everything they can to get back to the state.

Brad and Becky Grant of Wheat Ridge were passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship that was prohibited from docking in San Francisco after a passenger from a previous leg died from the respiratory illness COVID-19 and more than 20 tested positive for the disease. Now they jokingly call themselves “inmates” at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the California military base where they were quarantined and tested for COVID-19, after being allowed to come ashore. (They’re still awaiting test results.)

“Comparably speaking, we have no real reason to complain,” Brad Grant said of the amenities. Meals are delivered to passengers’ apartments on base, their temperatures are taken regularly by medical staff, and they’re permitted to walk throughout the spacious courtyard. The couple even received a bottle of wine and chocolate on the day of their 47th wedding anniversary.

“Having said that,” he said, “it’s actually been quite irritating that Colorado has been slow to respond relative to the other states in terms of getting their citizens home.”

Grand Princess passengers from other states who were quarantined there have left in recent days, Brad Grant said, while he and about 40 other Coloradans wait for the government to intervene. In a letter to legislators, his daughter relayed “laissez faire” protocols in Miramar that risk spreading coronavirus and urged them to take action.

“We aren’t required to gather in groups anymore, but I can go out to a table to pick up various food items that are open for anyone to touch,” he said. “That’s our main motivation for getting home — we’d be way better off in self-quarantine.”

The Colorado Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management expects to receive the residents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Strategic Communications Director Micki Trost.

Deb and Michael Clark had their cruise to Antarctica unexpectedly extended after the ship was prevented from docking upon return to Punta Arenas, Chile. Coronavirus was a serious issue on Feb. 29 when they boarded a Hurtigruten liner. Officials took their temperature before they got on. However, the Denver couple didn’t consider it a risk because they’d be traveling to glaciers and other uninhabited areas.

“We saw hundreds of penguins and only a dozen people throughout the trip,” Deb Clark said.

Now the ship is sailing to the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, where the Clarks and more than 300 other passengers hope to disembark and fly home, more than a week later than planned.

“We just got word the soonest we will be able to get off the ship is 3/25,” Deb Clark said in a text following an interview with The Denver Post. “We are concerned about getting back to the U.S.”

The Ditmers are also worried about how long they might be away. A few days after departing New Zealand, Carol Ditmer fell and broke her ankle. She received an X-ray, boot and wheelchair from the medical office onboard, but needs to see a surgeon when she gets home.

“We’re enjoying the ship as best we can, but the biggest thing is the uncertainty,” Steven Ditmer said.

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