A Penn State fan cruise set sail despite coronavirus warnings

Written By Emily Carson
Getty Images/SN Illustration

In the wake of hundreds of cruise cancellations and people stranded at sea due to the threat of the coronavirus, Penn State pushes on.

On March 9, 171 Penn State University alumni and fans boarded a Celebrity Infinity cruise ship for a five-day trip to benefit the Special Olympics. The group departed from Port Miami, and stopped along the way at Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. Originally, 198 people were scheduled to be on the cruise; some people were sick, but 16 canceled out of fear.

Celebrities onboard include Sue Paterno, the widow of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno; NFL Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris, and NFL star running back and College Football Hall-of-Famer Lydell Mitchell. All of them are part of the age cohort said to be most affected by coronavirus - they are 80, 70, and 70 years old, respectively. There have been 33 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania already.

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Prior to the trip, the cruise line emailed a warning that passengers could not board the ship if they had visited a select group of countries. Their temperature would be taken before boarding; if 100.4 or above, they would not be permitted to board. 

Onboard, crew members reportedly wait in front of the main dining hall entrances with large bags of sanitizer encouraging everyone to use it. One crew member even has a helpful rhyme: “The more you sanitize, the happier you will be, while at sea, on Celebrity."

Other precautions being taken on the ship include signs asking people to use a hand towel or tissue to open the bathroom door, to avoid directly touching the metal doorknob. Crew members are constantly wiping handrails and vacuuming air vents in the ceilings. And almost every passenger carries a miniature hand sanitizer with them wherever they go.

In general, there is little talk of the virus on the ship, and almost no hugging or handshaking. One crew member says there have been several meetings about the virus, but crew members are under instructions not to mention it unless a passenger brings it up.

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Harris is one of the people onboard who has voiced some concerns.

“Definitely, you’re concerned about it,” Harris said. “You think, what precautions can we do? What is the ship doing? With incidents on ships, you were aware of it.”

Along with him, Mitchell thought about ditching the cruise, even though it was last minute.

“I think some of us contemplated that,” Mitchell said. “But the cause (Special Olympics) made it worthwhile.”

Sue Paterno, widow of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, says that she couldn’t help noticing the onboard preparations. 

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“Everybody’s doing the elbows,” she said, referring to the new greeting of tapping elbows together. She personally brought Lysol spray, hand wipes and sanitizer. 

On the other hand, some members on the cruise are very confident in their ability to avoid the virus. Eileen Miner, the group’s veteran travel agent of 44 years, said she thinks the virus news has been blown out of proportion. While she believes that those with underlying lung issues, health-care workers and those in nursing homes should be protected, the hype has been too much for her.

“2,000 to 3,000 cruise ships have gone out and two have had a problem, and it was the same cruise line – Princess,” she said.

But the effect on the economy is real, she says. She’s had several tours cancelled by this virus, and is debating cancelling others.

“People panicked like I’ve never seen,” said Miner. “They didn’t panic like this at 9/11.”

“It’s OK to warn us. It’s a serious thing. But to tell us to stop living is wrong."

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