“We were so excited for this trip. It was our first cruise ever. We stopped in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan, but on Jan. 25, 2020, I watched headlines about a flu that was spreading across China. We all waited anxiously to hear what would happen to us.”
The United States has been gripped by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for over one year now. Loved ones have been lost, ways of life drastically altered and new lessons learned. However, one year ago, the world was just hearing for the first time about an unknown strain that was affecting China. At that time, there were so many questions, so many unknowns.
COVID-19 COMPROMISES THE CRUISE
The Van Sipe family was elated to take their first family cruise. With five-year-old Abigail in tow, Mike and Shannon Van Sipe were ready for a new family adventure. What they received in return, however, was something neither of them ever bargained for.
Shannon Van Sipe recalls an odd visit to the cruise ship’s gym, “I went for a run in the exercise room the morning that we arrived in Hong Kong. By the time I arrived to the gym, it was empty, I guessed that many people had disembarked the ship. I watched the news while I ran, and all the headlines revolved around a flu from Wuhan that was spreading.” It wasn’t until their last stop in Japan, when the passengers received a shocking announcement from the captain. “We were informed that there was a sick guest who disembarked in Hong Kong and went to a hospital. He went on an excursion and that's when contact tracing began.”
Shannon remembers it like it was yesterday, “There was a feeling of impending doom. We all waited anxiously to hear what would happen to us. We were supposed to disembark to go home. Instead, we were told to hang tight until the afternoon.” Unfortunately for the passengers, their release never came that afternoon. “We were told to go to our rooms and that we would be held on the ship overnight. The next morning came, and the captain made the announcement that we would be quarantined for two weeks - no one could leave their rooms.
The Van Sipe’s did not know it at the time but their cruise ship would come to hold, according the World Health Organization, half of the world’s coronavirus cases (outside of China). More than 3,700 passengers were confined to their cabins. What was once a vessel for adventure had now become a vessel for fear. Feeling scared and underprepared, the Van Sipes reached out to the American Red Cross at Camp Zama in Japan for help.
RED CROSS RESPONDS
The Van Sipe’s emergency request was one of the very first COVID-19 responses the American Red Cross conducted. The Van Sipes were a military family living at Camp Zama and were able to receive help from their local Red Cross on base.
Red Crosser Kenneth Romero shares, “They kept the Red Cross aware of their experience as we worked with the command to navigate how Red Cross could support the response. Little was known about the virus at the time. Out of precaution, after two weeks of quarantine on the ship, the military placed the family into an additional two weeks of isolation away from their home, but on the military installation. This is where our team continued to reach out to provide morale and boosted their comfort by having our volunteers fill their grocery lists. We delivered groceries to their 'undisclosed' location on base along with Red Cross comfort kits and some other Red Cross items.”
The Van Sipe family shares what this meant to them, “It was very hard to be quarantined in a single room for 15 days with a family of three, the youngest only five years old at the time. The Red Cross reached out to me to help provide groceries, cleaning supplie, and personal hygiene products for my family. It felt very lonely in quarantine on base. If we had known what could happen, we would have packed differently. We packed for 14 days of travel. By the time we went home, six weeks had gone by. That's a long time to be away when you're not expecting it. The Red Cross sending supplies to us was a major help. It was nice to get our hands on some familiar comfort foods. More importantly though, it was very comforting to know that help was just around the corner when we needed it.”