CBA’s Suzanne Suwanda and her Grand Princess quarantine story

Suzanne Suwanda in quarantine with her guitar at Travis Air Force Base

We recently got word that California Bluegrass Association member, Father’s Day Festival MC, and Northern California Bluegrass Bass Player of the Year Suzanne Suwanda was a passenger on the Grand Princess cruise ship that was diverted from its trip to Hawaii when two passengers contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus. Suzanne sings, plays bass and fiddle. Below are some details of the ordeal that she shared with me for the bluegrass audience from quarantine at Travis Air Force Base.

Hi Suzanne, before we get started, please share your bluegrass background, bands you play in, etc.

Currently, I play bass and sing with the Wildcat Mountain Ramblers and the Black Eyed Susies. One of my most formative experiences was as bassist with John Murphy’s Carolina Special, a band that truly honored the pioneering bands of the genre.

Suzanne, you’ve had an interesting last few weeks! Can you give us the highlights?

A friend invited me to share her cabin on a two-week cruise aboard the Grand Princess. With the ship leaving out of San Francisco, it would mean being able to just drive to the cruise terminal without worrying about packing restrictions, so I brought along my guitar and my fiddle. Everything was going just fine until it wasn’t — cruising away from the Hawaiian Islands toward Ensenada we were advised by the captain that due to coronavirus concerns we would be skipping Ensenada and going straight to SF. 

Are you, your travel mate and family all healthy and showing no symptoms of the virus?

No signs. They take our temperatures twice a day

How are things now that you are off the ship and in the Sacramento area?

We have more room but more frustration if that’s possible. It’s difficult to get information, and very frustrating that we are not allowed to receive packages dropped off at the base — mailed items are okay. Yesterday’s telephone conference call did not permit questions, but today’s did. I’ve been somewhat successful getting a Facebook page going so that we can share info across the three different quarantine stations, and with our fellow passengers abroad. I’m trying to get permission to quarantine at home, but only received the information on how to do that TODAY, six days into it. The questions of testing vs not testing, having accurate numbers vs not, are baffling at times. So far, less than two dozen people from the Grand Princess have tested positive for the virus, but as far as we know almost no one has been tested. Go figure. 

Your social media posts and interview on ABC News have been very enlightening and somehow calming for many of us.

Thank you for that. You’re welcome. It’s fun and it saves me sending the same messages over and over to friends who write to offer their support. I need some new material though!!

Did you ever get your Sam’s barbecue and IPA growler delivered?

NO – for the reasons above. I have requested a change in that policy with my new best buddy, an attorney at HHS Office of the General Counsel, Public Health Division CDC/ATSDR Branch. 

Have you been tested for the virus yet and if not, why is that?

Long story… essentially whoever is in charge doesn’t want us to test. Why? Tests are precious, tests are only good for a point in time — you can test negative but contract the infection between the time of the test and when you get results — we’ve been told if we test negative we WON’T be sent home — if the results aren’t back before it’s time to go we’ll have to wait (!!!!!) —  it could take DAYS to get the results — it’s a mess. No one will say how many people from the ship have been tested since they started disembarking.

It’s good you’ve had your guitar and fiddle. Have you been able to get any good wood-shedding or songwriting in?

One song that had been in the works for YEARS almost finished, two new ones in progress.

What are your favorite fiddle tunes?

Big Sciota, St Anne’s Reel, Fisher’s Hornpipe, Salt Spring (OK, mandolin tune).

Do you keep your guitar in your room or play it out for others?

On the ship I played out, had a lot of fun with people singing and making music. Since quarantine, no, don’t want to involve people that might spread the virus or worse cause CDC to THINK we are spreading the virus    

Do you have have any song(s) you feel capture the moment?

Dylan’s You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.

As you know, there have been a lot of event cancellations. What gigs do you look forward to getting back to?

I miss our regular gigs at Sam’s and Summit House Beer Garden & Grill. The Black Eyed Susies play for retirement communities; I’m sure they’ve had their outside guest programs curtailed, and that’s a very sad thing for them. They’re already somewhat isolated and now even more so.

 What has been the biggest surprise in all of this?

Great question. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the cruise. I had done some cruising before — a Caribbean cruise years ago with my parents, some river cruises with my Mom in Europe and in China, but I had never really SAILED on a cruise ship for thousands of miles across the ocean. I just loved it. Once the bad news began, I was surprised that we ended up here. The whole quarantine process has no guarantees and seems to be in place to keep Californians calm (is it working?) at our expense. We just sit here and cost the government a bunch of money. 

Did I see where you said you would get on another cruise, would you choose a different cruise line?

Not because of this. 

There has been some negative press about the treatment that passengers have received. Are there any myths you would like to bust?

What bad press, the bad food story? That sounds like garbage. Did Princess know about the virus on board before we left SF? It sounds like it. In terms of misinformation/lack of information, I don’t think the captain was treated any better by CDC than we have been.

Is there anything the readers can do to support your cause?

There’s a Facebook group — Crew Lives — that people can join and follow and lend their support in numbers to the issue of crew care. The crew we met were amazingly caring and professional and they need help. 

Thanks much, Suzanne, and we look forward to seeing you live and in person at Sam’s Barbecue or the CBA Father’s Day Festival. 

If it’s not canceled.

Here are a few more notes that I got from Suzanne after the interview.

Ready to scream, just heard from another passenger who left the ship Wednesday for Dobbins Air Force Base. Released from quarantine THIS AFTERNOON w/no mandatory self-quarantine.

This squeaky wheel got a little bit of grease. I just got transferred to a private room.

Communication with a neighbor at Travis Air Force Base.

Suzanne: Hello – I am your neighbor. I’m a musician and would like to practice in my room – I hope it doesn’t disturb you.

Neighbor: Go ahead! We will let you know if it does. Thanks for asking.

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About the Author

Dave Berry

Dave Berry is an avid mandolin picker, singer and songwriter who writes an interview column for the monthly California Bluegrass Association (CBA) members publication featuring California regional and national artists who tour California. He grew up in bluegrass country on the Ohio River right between where the Big Sandy and Big Scioto Rivers dump into the Ohio. The columns are also featured on the CBA website at www.cbaweb.org.