By Erin Hassanzadeh


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota couple is trapped on a cruise ship that is stranded off the coast of Panama with passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Friday, the Holland America Cruise Line said two people on board have tested positive for COVID-19, but dozens are reporting flu-like symptoms.

Valerie Myntti, of Ely, and her husband are hoping the government will step in to help them and others.

She says the trip started as a “grand vacation.” After jetting to Argentina on Feb. 20 and boarding the Zaandam cruise ship on March 7, Myntti and her husband were soaking in the beauty of South America with passengers from around the world.

“We were intending to stay on the cruise until April 7,” she said.

But things took a turn on March 14, when international ports started denying entry. No one has been allowed off the ship since.

“Everything proceeded as normal though in terms of life at sea,” Myntti said. “The sea days were fantastic. We were working out, we were walking outside.”

But that didn’t last.

A week ago, passengers started reporting flu-like symptoms, forcing everyone to isolate in their cabins. The cruise line says four people have died and tests now confirm at least two people aboard have COVID0-19. Additionally, more than 130 passengers have symptoms, including Myntti and her husband.

“My husband has a dry cough, and I’ve had 100.4 temperature,” she said.

Myntti says healthy passengers are loading onto a sister ship docked next to the Zaandam, but Myntti and her husband won’t be allowed.

“Our fate at this moment is unknown,” she said.

The path back to Florida through the Panama Canal is not an option after authorities denied the request. Though there are doctors and some medical supplies on board, Myntti fears it may not be enough.

“The issue for us is that we are on this boat with very sick people,” she said.

Myntti hopes someone will step in to ensure this trip of a lifetime does not turn into an even worse nightmare.

“I mean I understand the dilemma,” she said. “I truly do, but were all in this together.”

She added: “We’re confident that the government’s most humane side will rear its head.”

Myntti says she has not heard from the State Department directly but has been in touch with Minnesota lawmakers. She noted that Rep. Ilhan Omar’s staff has been checking in with her daily and is working on a solution.

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Erin Hassanzadeh

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