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After Cruise Ship Coronavirus Outbreak, Utah Couple Quarantined On Separate Continents

Photo of Mark and Jerri Jorgensen on the ship
Courtesy of Mark Jorgensen
Mark and Jerri Jorgensen were quarantined on their cruise ship the Diamond Princess for two weeks. During the quarantine, Jerri tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

In late January, St. George residents Mark and Jerri Jorgensen went on a cruise to Asia. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned though. 

After being quarantined on the ship for nearly two weeks, Jerri contracted coronavirus, or COVID-19, and is now being treated in Japan. Mark is back in the U.S., but is in quarantine for another 14 days at Travis Air Force Base in California. He joined KUER’s Caroline Ballard via Facebook messenger to tell their story.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Photo of Mark and Jerri Jorgensens
Courtesy of Mark Jorgensen

Caroline Ballard: Can you tell me about your vacation before the quarantine went into effect?

Mark Jorgensen: No one had ever heard of coronavirus before this happened. 

We went to Hong Kong on Chinese New Year, on Lunar New Year — that was amazing — and to Vietnam,Taiwan and Okinawa. I guess Okinawa was the first time we saw any sign that there might be something wrong because we had a [really] long wait to get onshore — three or four hours.

That was the last stop. We had two days at sea to get back to Tokyo. When we got back there and went to dinner, the captain came on and said that there was a passenger who had disembarked at Hong Kong, and a few days later he was diagnosed with the virus. He said that the Japanese Ministry of Health was going to keep us an extra 24 hours to screen everyone. 

The next day, they were coming to everyone's door and screening, and that night we went to dinner and the captain announced that they had discovered 10 more cases of coronavirus and that the ship would be now quarantined for 14 days. I don't know if you've ever been in a cruise ship dining room, but they’re loud, active places. And that place just stopped, and you could hear a pin drop.

CB: What was that like to hear that and to know that you were going to be in a very small room for two weeks?

MJ: It kind of sucked all the fun out of it, that's for sure. We thought, “Oh, OK, that's not convenient, but extended vacation, that's fine. Whatever.” But now now we're stuck in that room, and they would be delivering meals and we couldn't leave. That was what was challenging. 

Wednesday, [Feb.] 12, they called me and said, “We want to come test you.”

And I said, “Oh?” [and they said] “Well, yes, we consider you high risk because you had a transplant.” I [have] had two kidney transplants. So, they came and did a throat swab and then left, and we thought nothing of it. We felt fine. There was nothing wrong. 

Then the night of the 13th, my wife started getting a little bit of a high fever. And we said, “Well, let's see if it goes away in the morning.” And the next morning it still had not gone away. She wasn't feeling that ill, and we just didn't know what to do. Should we call in or not? 

Pretty soon that was answered for us because they called us and said, “We'll be at your room in just a minute.” And they showed up, and I opened the door. They handed me a paper that said “based on your test results, you will be removed from the ship and taken to a hospital.” 

Because of my high risk status, I just assumed it was for me. I said, “So, I need to pack a bag?” and they said, “No, it's your wife, it's not you.”

CB: Can you tell me what was that like for you? To hear that she was going to be going to a hospital and that you would be separated?

MJ: I never really feared the worst. I didn't think “oh, her life's in danger.” You know, she's got a virus. It'll run its course. She'll be fine. They caught it early. She'll be OK. But how long is that going to take? 

And so a lot of uncertainty entered my mind then. A lot of confusion. A couple of days later, we got the word that the U.S. State Department was evacuating everyone and we wrestled with the idea, well, what do I do? Should I stay here with my wife? Shouldn't I? I can't go home. 

We finally decided and she actually insisted that, “Hey, go home, get back to the states if you can. And even if you stay, you're not going to be able to be with me because I'm isolated.” So that's what I did. I joined the group and flew home, and that's where I am now — at the Travis Air Force Base in California. And she's still in the hospital in Japan.

CB: What are the accommodations like at the Air Force Base?

MJ: It's really nice, actually. They've just bent over backwards to make us feel welcome and comfortable. The housing is an extended stay hotel, definitely more spacious than a cruise cabin.

CB: How have you felt about the quality of care that she has received and that you have received?

MJ: Her care has been challenging, not for lack of good care. It's just the language barrier. She's in a place where no one speaks any English. They have to communicate through {translation} on the iPad. That's how they talk to each other.

She's had no Wi-Fi, no television and [is] just really bored out of her mind. Although they did remedy that yesterday, so she's happier now. But they've been very kind to her and taken really good care of her. And I've really not gotten any treatment, per se. They just watch my temperature, and as long as my temperature is fine, they don't really do anything as of now. They just check it twice a day and leave me to myself.

CB: What are you most looking forward to once you're out of quarantine and your wife Jerri is back home?

MJ: Well, the first thing we're going to do is go on a mountain bike ride and then we're going to have some Mexican food.

Caroline Ballard hosts All Things Considered at KUER. Follow her on Twitter @cballardnews

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