These couples were quarantined on the Diamond Princess, but hope to hit the high seas soon.

By Korin Miller
April 02, 2020
Credit: Courtesy of Otis and Carol

The Diamond Princess made headlines in February when 712 passengers on board tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The ship was quarantined and docked at Yokahama port, near Tokyo, with passengers on board for two weeks. The final crew members were able to leave the ship at the beginning of March, and after a thorough cleaning, the vessel has officially been cleared by the Japanese Ministry of Health to sail again, Princess confirmed Monday.

But in the time since the Diamond Princess ordeal began, the situation has escalated greatly. More than 200,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S., with every single state impacted.

According to current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who think they may have COVID-19 need to self-isolate and stay home, except to get medical care. Travel bans have been put into place, and schools and non-essential businesses have closed in many states. Many cruises are being quarantined at sea, and some out-of-service ships are being used as temporary hospitals.

Otis Menasco, 73, and his wife, Carol, 75, were on board the now infamous Diamond Princess voyage, and found themselves quarantined on the ship before they were allowed to disembark in Japan. They were then flown to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. There, they spent 15 more days in quarantine. Luckily, neither one experienced any symptoms of coronavirus.

Credit: Courtesy of Carl and Jeri

Carl Goldman, 67, wasn’t as lucky. Goldman, the owner of KHTS radio station in Santa Clarita, California, also traveled on the Diamond Princess cruise ship — and he ended up contracting COVID-19 at some point on his trip. Goldman and his wife, Jeri, who tested negative for COVID-19, were flown to Travis Air Force Base in California. On the flight, he developed symptoms. “I fell asleep on the flight and woke up with a high fever and dry cough,” he said. “I had no runny nose or sore throat — just a dry cough and fever.”

Goldman was separated from his wife and put into a quarantine area on the plane. Once the plane landed in California, he and other quarantined passengers (along with his wife) were sent to Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, where he was required to quarantine for 40 days.

What is a quarantine, exactly?

The term “quarantine” is being used right now to describe anyone who is restricting their access to the public, but that’s not entirely accurate. Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease, the CDC explains. Self-isolation, on the other hand, “involves an individual voluntarily limiting their contact with others for a specified duration of time to prevent transmission of infection,” explains infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Federal law allows the government to isolate and quarantine people or groups of people if there is a threat to public health. And, if a quarantinable disease is suspected or identified, the CDC says it can issue a federal isolation or quarantine order. The CDC has several quarantine stations located across the country, some of which COVID-19 patients have been taken to.

What is the point of a quarantine?

“The goal is to make sure people aren't contagious and that they don't develop an infection from COVID-19 after an exposure,” said Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and an associate professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University.

In the case of the Diamond Princess passengers, they were likely exposed to the virus on the ship, and health officials wanted to make sure they were free of coronavirus before releasing them into the public, where they had the potential to infect others.

What is it really like when you’re in quarantine?

It varies. Menasco’s experience was different from what Goldman went through. According to Menasco, he and his wife had a small room. “As you walked in, there was a double bed, dresser, small closet, sink, microwave, and a small bathroom with shower,” he said. “There was one small window looking out front to the driveway below.” Travel + Leisure reached out to the U.S. Air Force for comment, but did not receive a response.

Goldman’s lodging varied, depending on the stage of his illness. When he first arrived at Nebraska Medical, he was taken by ambulance to a biocontainment area. “It was sealed off. There was double-paned glass with chicken wire,” he said. Goldman had cameras on him at all times and “no one entered without a full hazmat suit and three layers of gloves.”

Goldman said he was given ibuprofen and “gallons and gallons” of Gatorade. He also volunteered to be part of a clinical study after a few days and underwent testing daily.

Goldman was eventually moved from biocontainment to new lodgings while still under quarantine. “It’s more like a hotel room, but the window is sealed,” he said. “I’m not allowed to leave my room. I have a TV, and a stationary bike so I can exercise. I also have a regular bed, a small desk, and a nice chair.”

Morgan Shradar, biocontainment clinical coordinator at Nebraska Medicine where Goldman stayed, said each of the company’s rooms for quarantined patients “look like a nice, loft-style studio apartment.” Each room contains a desk, dresser, and exercise equipment, like a treadmill or stationary bike, according to Shradar. “There is seamless flooring and all surfaces are wipeable,” she added.

Goldman said he had “great” food options while in biocontainment. “I had a menu that was larger than the Cheesecake Factory’s,” he said. “I could call and order whatever I wanted.” His wife, who was not in biocontainment, was “given a set meal,” he said. Still, Goldman said, the food has been “excellent…we get more than we could possibly eat.”

Menasco, on the other hand, wasn’t impressed with the food he was given. “Food for first five days was not very good,” he said. “It improved after that, but we seldom knew what the food was.”

How is Princess Cruises responding to coronavirus ?

Princess Cruises has suspended operations for 60 days in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. “By taking this bold action of voluntarily pausing the operations of our ships, it is our intention to reassure our loyal guests, team members, and global stakeholders of our commitment to the health, safety, and well-being of all who sail with us, as well as those who do business with us, and the countries and communities we visit around the world," Jan Swartz, the president of Princess Cruises, said in a statement provided to T+L.

Reps for Princess Cruises also confirmed in a statement that the cruise line has completed thorough disinfection of the Diamond Princess vessel, including all public and crew access areas, staterooms, crew cabins, and dining and entertainment sections. "Implementing the highest regard for the safety and well-being of all individuals involved in the disinfection process, technicians have been cleaning using high-grade, full personal protective equipment (PPE)," the statement read. "The process entailed first the removal of all linens, bedding, and other material. Then, the team disinfected the entire vessel (all areas in which guests and crew interacted with the vessel), including all high-touch surfaces (corridors, handrails, door handles, etc.) and the application of a disinfectant. Disinfection and cleaning also included carpet and hard-surface flooring as well as the entire heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) systems throughout the ship."

What is life like after quarantine?

After 15 days, Menasco and his wife were given a letter that declared them “quarantined and free from the virus,” and they were released. Being home “feels absolutely wonderful,” said Menasco. “It felt like we were in a new home with new furniture after seven weeks gone. We slept the best we had in four weeks and roamed our yard like it was paradise. The freedom was hard to explain.”

Goldman hasn’t yet experienced that feeling, but his wife has. While she’s happy to be home, Goldman said she wasn’t welcomed by everyone. “[People] have shunned her like she’s a leper returning from a leper colony,” he said.

Goldman has now received two negative tests for coronavirus and will finally be released. It’s not required, but he said he planned to spend 14 days in isolation at home “to not freak anyone out, let things calm down, and let people get used to the idea that I’m in Santa Clarita.”

While Goldman wasn’t exactly thrilled to be quarantined, he said his experience was as good as it could have been. “I’ve been treated beyond well — stellar,” he said. “Everybody has been incredible.”

As for whether Menasco and his wife will ever cruise again, he said, "We do plan on taking our family to Playa de Carmen, Mexico, for New Years. We love cruises and have been on about 20 of them. We mostly will take cruises again in 2021 — just have not planned any as yet."

Carl, too, will return to the high seas. On whether he plans to book another sailing, he said,  "Absolutely. We love cruising — we expect to be back on a Princess cruise by the end of the year."