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How Coronavirus Turned a Cruise Vacation Into an Endurance Test

Ship evacuees use social media to share stories of quarantine

The Diamond Princess cruise ship which is anchored at Daikoku Pier of the Yokohama Port is seen prior to quarantined passengers disembark on February 19, 2020 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan

The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

En español | For the more than 2,600 passengers quarantined aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, a much-awaited Japanese itinerary became a test of endurance after the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. Confined largely to their cabins from Feb. 5 until Wednesday, many guests relied on social media to keep family and loved ones informed, and they continued to post updates as they made their way home this week.

For David Abel, a wedding officiant and self-described global traveler, home is England, but he isn't headed there quite yet. Having recently tested positive for the virus, Abel and his wife, Sally (who also tested positive), are among those who have been transferred to a Japanese hospital for monitoring and treatment.

Abel has posted regular text and video updates about his experience from quarantine to hospital, racking up thousands of likes and countless supportive comments.

As of Tuesday, more than 100 U.S. citizens were either still onboard the Diamond Princess or in hospitals in Japan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"After disembarkation from the Diamond Princess, these passengers and crew will be required to wait 14 days without having symptoms or a positive coronavirus test result before they are permitted to board flights to the United States,” the agency said in a statement.

Off the ship, passengers face a second quarantine

More than 300 Americans without symptoms have already arrived back in the U.S., having disembarked on Feb. 16 and flown back on cargo planes specially outfitted for the journey.

Those passengers are now in the midst of another two-week quarantine, at either Travis Air Force Base, near Fairfield, California, or Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, in Texas.

Mark Jorgensen of St. George, Utah, is among those being held at the Fairfield facility after disembarking from the Diamond Princess, where he and his wife, Jerri, waited out the initial quarantine in good spirits.

The pair even celebrated Valentine's Day on the ship with a special shrimp dinner and chocolate-heart dessert that the cruise line provided.

But the journey home has not been without challenges. In a Facebook video posted this week, Jorgensen recalls waiting for hours on an airport-bound bus with his fellow passengers, most of whom were older adults.

One elderly gentleman, he says in the video, was given a jug to use to relieve himself while the group was forced to wait for several hours on the bus before arriving at the airport.

Now settled at Travis Air Force Base, Jorgensen has continued to post regular updates on Facebook.

"Tonight the ‘isolation’ part of isolation came into full focus for me,” he wrote in a Feb. 18 post. “This is the first day since this whole thing started in mid January that I've spent completely alone. I'm not going to lie to you: it's hard.”

In Japan, a language barrier and uncertainty

Jerri Jorgensen, who tested positive for the virus while onboard the Diamond Princess, remains hospitalized in Fukushima, Japan. In a Facebook video from Feb. 18, she showed off two bags of food from McDonald's that a health care provider brought to her as a special treat.

In the video, Jorgensen recounts her difficulty setting up Wi-Fi access in the hospital, in part due to the language barrier between patients and staff.

She hopes to be clear of the virus after being retested so that she can board a commercial flight home, though, she says, things are “still a little bit in limbo."

Jorgensen's uncertainty about her journey home — in addition to being separated from her husband — highlights the complexities of the repatriation process and of the quarantine itself, which health experts around the world have criticized for failing to stop the spread of COVID-19, which affects the respiratory system and can cause pneumonia.

Among the initial 3,711 guests and crew members aboard the Diamond Princess, 621 cases of the virus have been confirmed, with some test results pending.

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