BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – UPDATE: June and Len Brooks have tested negative for COVID-19 and have been released from quarantine in Taxas. They should be home tomorrow. They tell us they feel healthy and are happy to be coming home.
ORIGINAL: The Brookses knew their 48th wedding anniversary trip would be memorable, but for unexpected reasons, it’s turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We went to Maui and did whale watching and saw humpback whales jumping up in the air and baby humpbacks and their moms,” said June Brooks, as the smile widened across her face. “And then we went to the Big Island of Hawaii and got in a helicopter and rode over Volcano National Park and flew over Kīlauea. There was steam coming out of the mouth of the crater and lava bubbling around!”
She added, “It was quite an exciting and wonderful vacation. We had a great time. And then we started home.”
One night, as the Grand Princess cruise ship sailed across the Pacific Ocean towards San Francisco, a letter was slipped under their cabin door.
“The Captain had been notified that we weren’t to come back to San Francisco, we were changing the itinerary… and that a person who had gotten off the ship February 21, which is the day we got on the ship, that that person had gotten off the ship, gone home and got sick [with Coronavirus] and died.”
The letter came March 4, three days before they were supposed to dock in San Francisco. After a few uncertain days, including an afternoon where the California Air National Guard lowered a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on-board in Hazmat gear to test passengers, the cruise ship docked in Oakland.
“They fenced it off, they had tents and Hazmat suited up folks and they let us disembark in categories,” said Mrs. Brooks. The passengers were given masks and led to waiting buses.
She continued, “We had police escort, we went to an airport but not the terminal. We went to a waiting jet with no markings on it whatsoever, and Hazmat people were all around, we walked up the stairs, and our flight attendants were in Hazmat suits.”
Mr. Brooks added, “It was a little bit like the Twilight Zone.”
The couple and 97 other passengers landed in San Antonio, Texas Tuesday night. After a medical screening, they were given their room assignments at Lackland Air Force Base and escorted to their one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.
“They are treating us very well, the food is very good, they do our laundry for us, so I’m not having to cook or clean or do any laundry, so it’s been a little bit of a vacation,” said Mrs. Brooks.
Mr. Brooks added, “We developed the attitude… that we are going to have a positive attitude about it and we are going to be hopeful and we are not going to be fearful and that has steered us through up to this point and we are going to continue to be that way.”
The couple is able to leave their room and spend time outside but they must wear their masks and have to stay 6-feet away from the other passengers. They are able to listen-in to daily teleconferences with a CDC doctor and stay informed on what’s happening outside the base. They pass their time video chatting with their 2-year-old grandson, watching TV and connecting with friends on social media.
“I tell him I can handle this as long as you’re with me but I said if they separate us I’ll be a nervous wreck. I said, ‘What if I start coughing and they put me in the hospital? He said, ‘I’ll start coughing too!,’” said Mrs. Brooks.
The Brookses have daily health screenings and if they stay well, their quarantine will end March 23. While they’re anxious to get home, they understand why they’re being isolated and are patient with the process.
“This is being very cautious. And I think it’s a wonderful thing, because to me, the worst thing would be to transmit it to another person,” said Mrs. Brooks.