Melanie Sibbitt had to wear a mask when she left the Grand Princess cruise ship and boarded a Canadian flight to CFB Trenton. (File contributed/ Melanie Sibbitt)

Melanie Sibbitt had to wear a mask when she left the Grand Princess cruise ship and boarded a Canadian flight to CFB Trenton. (File contributed/ Melanie Sibbitt)

Woman comes home to ‘entirely different’ Victoria after cruise ship, military base quarantine

Melanie Sibbitt booked herself a last-minute vacation on a cruise ship hit by COVID-19

A Victoria woman is home after spending weeks in quarantine off the coast of California and at a Canadian Forces base in Ontario, after COVID-19 began spreading to North America.

Melanie Sibbitt is a business owner who decided to book a last-minute vacation for herself: a two-week cruise to Hawaii on the Grand Princess cruise ship.

“It was a long overdue vacation,” Sibbitt said. “I needed a break. It was time to breathe.”

Little did she know how ironic that statement would be when, 11 days into the tour, passengers learned that four previous passengers on the ship had tested positive for COVID-19, and that one of the men who departed the ship was the first to die of the virus in California.

“That started the whole snowball effect,” she said, as the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Governor of California asked the ship to stay where it was off the California coast.

At first passengers needed to self-report if they were feeling ill, and subtle changes were instated on board the ship.

Staff and passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship had to wear masks as passengers disembarked and were shipped to quarantine sites in their respective home countries. (File contributed/ Melanie Sibbitt)

At a formal lobster dinner night, staff were the only people who could touch food, cutlery and even salt and pepper when serving, and handwashing stations were found around the dining area.

Things stepped up by the next day when the captain told passengers that a military helicopter would be bringing in COVID-19 tests and medical crews.

The helicopter, Sibbitt recalled, was a hair away from the ship.

“I remember thinking ‘Am I in a movie? Am I an extra and someone forgot to tell me?’” Sibbitt said.

Tests found 21 passengers and crew members positive, and consequently everyone else was told to self-quarantine in their rooms.

“I’m very fortunate that I don’t scare easily and I stay positive,” Sibbitt said, adding that the staff on board were phenomenal and delivered food to their doors.

ALSO READ: Trudeau says he’s ‘proud’ Canadians stepping up to challenge of COVID-19

Wifi and phone calls became available at no cost, and more TV stations were added for passengers.

“I was able to stay in contact with my family members by messenger, and powered through four seasons of Outlander,” Sibbitt laughed. “My sister, Kim, and I would laugh on the phone multiple times a day. It was the laughter that got us through it.”

Canadian passengers of the Grand Princess cruise were tested for fever before going on to be sent to CFB Trenton for quarantine. (File contributed/ Melanie Sibbitt)

After five days on the ocean the cruise ship was allowed to dock so that passengers could be transported elsewhere. Canadians were some of the first to disembark, receiving notice that they would be taken to CFB Trenton in Ontario for mandatory quarantine.

“I can’t explain how much gratitude I had from the Canadian government for swooping in and getting us out,” Sibbit said.

Tents were set up along the pier and passengers had their temperatures taken and were given masks. They received arm bands which read their temperatures and then were escorted by police to a cargo plane.

On board, Sibbitt found health care and border services agents in full hazmat suits, checking final papers and taking temperatures. There were also boxed lunches and blankets on each seat.

Health care workers in full personal protective equipment test passengers for a fever before a cargo plane organized by the Canadian government takes off. The plane is taking Canadian passengers who had been on board the Grand Princess cruise ship in California quarantined site at CFB Trenton. (File contributed/ Melanie Sibbitt)

There were 237 people on the plane, some showing symptoms and cordoned off into a separate section.

“Before we took off, everyone broke out into ‘O Canada’,” Sibbitt recalled.

When Canadians arrived in at the hanger in Trenton they received a warm welcome.

“Everyone applauded and cheered, saying that ‘we’re glad you’re home.’ It was very sweet.”

ALSO READ: 24,000 Canadian Forces members ready for COVID-19 response

While the military owns the base, the Canadian Red Cross operated the quarantine zone

Red Cross staff and volunteers made sure everyone on the base was comfortable, going as far as getting clothes for people who had only packed a wardrobe for Hawaii.

Everyone was told to stay in their own rooms, where there were TVs and wifi, and were allowed to go out for one hour increments to get fresh air. Nurses came in twice per day to take temperatures and check on how everyone was feeling.

“The last question they always asked was ‘how are you coping with everything?’” Sibbitt said. “They had counsellors around if you needed one.”

During her stay there, 13 people tested positive for COVID-19 – Sibbitt was not among them.

ALSO READ: Cruise ships, one with COVID-19 on board, carry Canadians covertly through Panama Canal

After two weeks, healthy people were released, leaving one building at a time. Sibbitt recalled watching people leave through her window as she awaited her turn.

“It was really emotional, I had tears rolling down my face. They were tears of joy, and they were also relief.”

In Victoria Sibbitt was greeted by her sister. While they couldn’t hug, the two ‘could finally exhale.’

Sibbitt drove home along empty streets dotted with vacant businesses.

“Having been on the inside looking out, the world and city I left five weeks ago was entirely different,” she said. “There’s definitely a much different energy to our city, a much more quiet energy but in the same token a much calmer energy.”

Sibbitt is now working to maintain her business from home, having had to make some difficult decisions about shifting workers to part time and cutting herself from a paycheque until things level out.

In the meantime, however, she hopes other people can take away positivity from the pandemic.

“I believe this is an opportunity for the world to come together and for people to understand that we’re all one,” she said. “We will get through this. Love, positivity and connection is what is important.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

Like us on Facebook, send a Tweet to @NicoleCrescenzi
and follow us on Instagram

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A spokesperson for the Peninsula Country Market is upset that their third and final Winter Market won’t happen this Saturday in Central Saanich’s Centennial Park following moves by the municipality. (Facebook/Peninsula Country Market)
Central Saanich postpones weekend Winter Market, organizers upset

Lorea Tomsin said municipality’s move runs counter to provincial direction

As cyclists and pedestrians pass by at Humboldt and Government streets, a garden of blooming black-eyed Susans brightens up the northwest corner of the Fairmont Empress Hotel property on a partially sunny November afternoon. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Keep your umbrella handy for the next while around Greater Victoria

November has lived up to its reputation as one of the rainiest months of the year

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming moves to the role of transportation minister in the NDP’s new cabinet. (B.C. government file photo)
Greater Victoria MLAs claim key roles in new cabinet

Transportation, Indigenous relations, children and family development ministries headed by locals

Penny Hart is emotional outside the Saanich Police Department as she pleads for helpt to find her son Sean Hart last seen Nov. 6 at a health institution in Saanich. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: Mother of missing Saanich man begs public to help find her son

Sean Hart last seen leaving Saanich mental health facility Nov. 6

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a suspect who wore a black-and-white striped hoodie and rode a yellow mountain bike when he allegedly stole three children’s backpacks from a daycare facility. (Photo submitted)
VIDEO: Thief steals children’s backpacks from daycare in Nanaimo

Suspect rode a yellow mountain bike and made off with backpacks hanging on fence

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The Klahoose First Nation village on Cortes Island is under lockdown until further notice due to a positive COVID-19 test. Photo courtesy Kevin Peacey.
Cortes Island First Nation community locked down due to positive COVID-19 test

Klahoose First Nation has had one positive test, one other potential case

Ladysmith’s 1st Avenue will be lit up until January 15. (Cole Schisler photo)
Light Up parade a no-go, but Ladysmith’s streets are still all aglow

Although the tradition Light Up this year was cancelled, folks can still enjoy the holiday lights

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Most Read