Two Utahns separated from spouses during coronavirus outbreak on cruise ship, arrive in US for second round of quarantine

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TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (ABC4 News) – More than 300 American cruise ship passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, are back on American soil at military bases in California and Texas after arriving from Yokohama, Japan on overnight charter flights.

Two of those passengers are from Utah and have been separated from their spouses, who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, more commonly known as the coronavirus.

Tooele resident Melanie Haering was separated from her husband, John last week during their nearly two-week quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The couple originally planned for a six-month retirement trip around the world when their ship’s itinerary was abruptly halted on February 4th as the first passenger on-board tested positive for the virus.

John then began exhibiting flu-like symptoms more than a week ago. On Wednesday, the ship’s medical crews transported him to a local Japanese hospital, where he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since then, he’s been placed in isolated quarantine. Melanie said he won’t be discharged from the hospital until he can test negative two days in a row. But she posted online that their concerns have heightened as John now has pneumonia.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. said it arranged for an evacuation over the weekend of its citizens aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship because of high exposure risk.

The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms. They were being kept isolated from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

Melanie joined approximately 340 out of 380 Americans on the ship who opted to fly back to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California for the second round of a 14-day quarantine. Passengers also had the option to fly to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

“For me personally, you know, I’m retired so I don’t have a job to go to. But I would rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “But I have mixed emotions because my husband is [in Japan] and his hospital conditions aren’t that good for him.”

St. George resident Mark Jorgensen shares a similar experience as Melanie Haering. He will also be quarantined for another 14 days at Travis Air Force Base while his wife Jerri remains in strict isolation at a hospital in Japan with no access to the internet, newspapers, or TV. She’s the second person in Utah on board the ship and the first in Southern Utah testing positive for COVID-19.

“There was an isolation section and it was all tented off,” Mark Jorgensen said of the charter flights back to the United States. “They took temperatures and if you had a high temperature you went into an isolation booth.”

He added, “Jerri and I will be separated for at least two weeks, probably a lot longer, so I’m obviously sad about that.”

While Jerri told ABC4 News she isn’t experiencing any symptoms, she said her day-to-day is tougher than she thought.

“I’m kinda lonely in here,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “None of the doctors speak English, and we communicate with an iPad. Lots get lost in translation!”

Jerri said medical teams are also keeping a close eye on her husband because he’s medically vulnerable after two kidney transplants. Mark said he’s currently not experiencing any symptoms.

Jerri learned she’ll likely be transported on a hospital plane to the United States to finish out her 14 days in isolation, bringing her closer to reuniting with her husband.

“We will coordinate from there how to get back together,” Mark said. “I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m excited about that.”

The Americans under quarantine will be closely monitored by medical professionals while they wait on those air force bases. By the time they’re released, they’ll have been under quarantine for about a month.

The most updated numbers as of late Monday afternoon show approximately 454 cases of coronavirus among the 3,700 passengers who were on-board the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The virus has infected 71,000 people worldwide and killed 1,873 so far. 

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