Two small factors stood between Andrea Bergmann Anderson, 63, a passenger from Ohio on board Holland America's coronavirus-infected MS Zaandam, and its sibling ship, the MS Rotterdam: A questionnaire and a temperature screening.
"I went to the medical center nine days ago because of the sinus infection and a cough," she told USA TODAY Friday afternoon, adding she completed two rounds of antibiotics for the infection. Her husband, Rob, had also reported a cold to the medical center. She was feeling a bit nervous that she would not be allowed to transfer because of her visit to the center. "We filled out a medial form, and we were honest."
As of Friday, four people on the ship had died and 138 were sick. Holland America Line announced Tuesday they would be sending the Rotterdam to rendezvous with the Zaandam, which had only had 77 sick people on board at the time, for supplies, tests and additional medical personnel. The ships are off the coast of Panama.
On Friday, the Holland America Line began separating passengers between the ships based on the condition of their health.
"Today we announced a plan to transfer groups of healthy Zaandam guests to Rotterdam, with strict protocols for this process developed in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," Holland America said in a statement released by spokesman Erik Elvejord. "Only those who have not been ill will be moved, and health screenings will be conducted before transferring."
By the end of the day, nearly 100 passengers had made the move from the Zaandam to the Rotterdam, Elvejord told USA TODAY Saturday. He said the process would continue, though it was unclear how many people had been moved by early afternoon.
Holland America said the Zaandam arrived in Panamanian waters on Friday, March 27, and has since been following the protocol of Panama's Ministry of Health, which states if a vessel has individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 on board, it cannot make any port operations or transit the canal.
The two ships received permission to anchor off the coast to meet and transfer supplies and passengers. The plan for disembarkation is not yet finalized.
"While the onward plan for both ships is still being finalized; we continue to work with the Panamanian authorities on approval to transit the Panama Canal for sailing to Fort Lauderdale, Florida," the line said in the statement.
The healthy passengers transferred to the Rotterdam would likely be able to transit the Panama Canal and continue their journey back to the U.S.
Andrea and Rob were not among the passengers to transfer on Friday and won't be leaving the Zaandam in the days to come.
A little later on Friday afternoon, Andrea told USA TODAY that they had not passed the health screening. Neither had a fever at the time of the screening and neither was asked to take a test for COVID-19. But they were told they would be remaining on the Zaandam nonetheless.
"I am kind of depressed about this," she said. "I had hoped that we could go and that the ship would be clear to disembark. We could have lied, but that would not be right."
Andrea understood why she and Rob weren't allowed to make the switch, in spite of her disappointment. "They have be careful."
Four dead, 138 sick on MS Zaandam
Four elderly passengers on board Holland America's MS Zaandam have died on the cruise ship that is stuck in limbo during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement shared by Elvejord, Holland America said of the four who had died: "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time."
Elvejord added that due to health regulations, Holland couldn't say whether those passengers had reported coronavirus symptoms.
The ship is currently carrying 138 people who have complained of flu-like symptoms, which are similar to coronavirus symptoms. Two people have tested positive for COVID-19. On March 22, the cruise line told passengers to stay in their staterooms.
Those on the ship who are sick include 53 passengers and 85 crew members. There are 1,243 passengers and 586 crew members on board, including 305 Americans.
The ship did not have coronavirus tests available on board until Thursday evening, when it rendezvoused with the Rotterdam for additional supplies and medical personnel. On board the Zaandam there are four doctors and four nurses; the Rotterdam is carrying two doctors and four nurses, the cruise line said.
Holland America Line, along with major cruise lines worldwide, announced March 13 it would suspend cruise operations for at least 30 days and end its cruises in progress. But cruise ships that were at sea at the time that were stuck on the water. They have been denied ports and scrambled to get passengers disembarked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Zaandam began its South American voyage from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was originally scheduled to end the sailing in San Antonio, Chile, March 21.
No one has been off the ship since March 14 when it was in Punta Arenas, Chile.
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Contributing: Andrea Mandell