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Tucson couple finally home in SaddleBrooke after 11 days quarantined on a cruise ship

Tucson couple finally home in SaddleBrooke after 11 days quarantined on a cruise ship

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order series

Stephen Maltzman and Donna DePesa were confined to their cruise ship cabin for 11 days off the coast of Brazil.

Stephen Maltzman sat in his backyard in the SaddleBrooke community north of Tucson, taking in the view of the towering Santa Catalina Mountains and the bright green golf course and enjoying the warm sunshine.

He was especially enjoying being at his desert home Monday after 11 days quarantined in the cabin of a cruise ship off the coast of Recife, Brazil. Maltzman and his wife, Donna DePesa, were two of 103 U.S. passengers on a Silversea Cruises cruise ship.

President Trump mentioned the cruise and the safe return of its passengers Monday in his news briefing.

Maltzman and DePesa embarked on the Silver Shadow on March 7 in Rio de Janeiro for what was supposed to be a 20-day cruise where they would teach bridge and host bridge games, Maltzman said. The cruise was scheduled to stop at three coastal Brazil cities before heading north toward Puerto Rico — stopping at several islands along the way — and ultimately to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Five days into the cruise, a passenger was taken to a hospital and tested positive for COVID-19. The rest of the passengers were told to to stay in their cabins as the ship remained at the port of Recife, Brazil.

Maltzman and DePesa had a suite with a sitting area and a balcony along with their bedroom.

The couple would go out to the balcony for fresh air and sometimes talked to their balcony neighbors. But even with a bigger-than-usual cruise cabin, the pair could not wait to get home, he said.

The first day after the ship’s lockdown, passengers were allowed to leave their room for one hour and walk around on the ship, but that only lasted one time, Maltzman said.

The ship crew had employees bring passengers meals, initially dropping off food in the room but after four days, dropping off food outside each cabin door.

Maltzman and DePesa spent most of their time reading books, watching movies and connecting with friends and relatives on the internet.

“This entire experience will make a wonderful relationship that I have with my wife even better, if that can be possible,” he said.

The ship captain and the cruise director provided daily updates about their communication with the U.S. State Department and with Brazilian government officials, Maltzman said.

Passengers on the ship hailed from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. Maltzman said. He and his wife heard the announcements as the Australians got to go home, then the UK passengers.

They were supposed to leave the same day as the Canadians, he said. But the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where the U.S. government had arranged for their return, would not let them back into the country. They weren’t told why.

The U.S. passengers were finally able to leave the ship over the weekend, flying to Dallas on Sunday, staying there overnight, then flying to Arizona Monday morning.

Maltzman said the cruise company made the best of a bad situation, providing first-class treatment to its passengers with a police escort in Brazil to the airport, chartered planes exclusively for the cruise passengers and high-end meals of shrimp, salad, bread and butter throughout their travel.

The cruise company also provided the couple a Cadillac limousine for the trip from Phoenix to Tucson, Maltzman said.

Although they quarantined on the ship 11 days, Maltzman said he and his wife plan to self-quarantine in Tucson.

“We love our home and we have no problem staying here” he said. “I can go for a walk, I can sit in my backyard. I’m an organist, and I can’t wait to sit and play the organ.”

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