just asking questions

An American on Quarantined Cruise Ship Describes Moment His Wife Was Diagnosed With Coronavirus

Photo: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images

Kent and Rebecca Frasure, an American couple from the Portland, Oregon, area, were two of the 3,700 passengers aboard the now-infamous cruise ship Diamond Princess. The beginning of the trip, which ended in a quarantine lockdown in the Japanese port of Yokohama, was enjoyable and unremarkable for the two, as the ship docked in various Asian cities. But on February 3, while heading back to Yokohama, the ship’s captain announced they were speeding up. That was where the voyage started to become a nightmare. Since then more than 200 people aboard the ship — including 44 new cases announced on Thursday — have been diagnosed with coronavirus. Among that number is 35-year-old Rebecca.

But when I reached Kent by phone, I didn’t know that Rebecca had been diagnosed. I just contacted him as a passenger — simply to interview him and get a sense of what it was like to be stranded in quarantine. In the interview that follows, you will see the moment when I realize the couple’s situation. The good news is that, harrowing moments aside, both seem to be bearing up admirably.

How did all this start out for you?
We had been planning this trip for about a year. I get a sabbatical from my work every seven years. It was basically a chance to take a longer vacation. So we decided to come to the cruise and then to spend another couple weeks in Japan.

How old are you?
I’m 42. She’s 35.

You said sabbatical — do you work in academia?
No, I work for [a technology company].

Where are you on the ship?
So I’m on the 10th deck. They don’t call them floors. Luckily, I’m actually in a suite. So I have a pretty big balcony. Pretty big room. I know quite a few people who don’t have windows. We actually upgraded to this suite about a week before we got on.

How did that happen?
We’d been getting upgrade offers from Princess for about a month. The price had dropped enough to the point we were like, ‘This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity so let’s go ahead and splurge. Let’s do it.’

How long was this trip supposed to be? 
We were actually supposed to be gone for a month.

You’re on this cruise … Do you remember how things were going and when they turned?
So the cruise started in Yokohama. Then we went to Kagoshima. From there we went to Hong Kong. And then we went to a couple different places in Vietnam and Taiwan after that. Then Okinawa. And then back to Yokohama.

Is Princess one of the fancier cruise lines?
Princess is a bit more upscale than most. If you were to compare it to Carnival — Carnival is a bit more of a party ship. Or Disney would probably be a step above Princess. There’s even more expensive ones that get up there. But we enjoy Princess. The crowd is a bit older so there’s not a lot partying. It’s more of a mellow ship.

How much was it may I ask?
The suite ended up being about $6,500.

This was scheduled for how many days?
This is for 15 days.

Worth every penny for that suite. 

Valentine’s Day is coming up. Was that on the docket?
We were actually supposed to fly home on Valentine’s Day. So yeah!

As you were hitting these various ports, was there any inkling about coronavirus?
Coming here, the virus was just starting to become news. I don’t know if it had gotten outside of China at that point. My wife actually hadn’t heard about it at all. On the ship we were getting regular news, so we had watched the numbers really rise on the ship. So there’s talk on the ship — like, it was concerning, but nobody had any sense that we were at risk at all. It wasn’t until Okinawa that we really started seeing any indication that there might be a risk. Then we got the news about the passenger that tested positive from Hong Kong.

Did you ever know who that was or where they were from or went?
No, we haven’t been given any sort of identities of anybody who’s gotten sick. It’s impossible to know who that person is.

You know about this passenger taken off the ship. 
In Okinawa we were informed that the Japanese government wanted to do more stringent screening of passengers. So they tested everybody’s temperature.

How did they do that?
It was a camera and a questionnaire for everybody to fill out about whether they had symptoms.

Did you or your wife have any symptoms? 
No, I never had any symptoms. My wife did have a very minor cough. But other than that. Nothing.

So you’re both seemingly fine. Then what?
We head to Yokohama. There was, I believe, one sea day in between. We were supposed to arrive in final port on the morning of February 4. The evening of February 3, the captain informed everybody that they were speeding up the ship to get to Yokohama early.

Was this Captain Arma?

Hearing good things about him. 
Yeah, he’s doing alright.

So you’re hurrying back to Yokohama. 
They’re speeding up because the Japanese wanted to do additional screening and also there would be quarantine officers joining the ship that night. They were still trying to get everybody off to the port. Then they went cabin to cabin taking everybody’s temperature.

Do you know how many medical personnel boarded the ship?
There were two that came to our cabin. I don’t know if there were multiple people on board doing that. But it took them about 24 hours to get through the entire ship.

Were they wearing hazmat suits?
No, They were just wearing gloves and face masks.

Were you still free to walk around at that point?
We were able to freely walk around until the evening of February 5. That evening the captain came over the loudspeaker; we were in bed. It was probably 10 o’clock at night. He came over the loudspeaker and said there had been 10 cases of coronavirus found on the ship and the ship would be quarantined for 14 days.

Just like that. 

What did you do?
It was like a big shock. We were ready to go to bed, so it was not a lot of fanfare, I guess. We basically just talked for a little while how crazy this was.

Did you start making friends? Get to know some people?
At that point we were quarantined to our rooms. We didn’t know too many people on board. But luckily we had exchanged some email addresses. So we were able to get a hold of [other passengers] over the course of a couple days. Then we got a WhatsApp group going. The WhatsApp group that we’re in — it’s about 25 people. So that group has been really good. Everybody is really positive. They’re sharing what everybody’s doing. There is also a Facebook group. Facebook groups tend to be pretty negative in nature. No other way to put it.

It’s nice you have some way to talk about this with others going through it too. 
Exactly. There is a little bit of going out on the balcony. And if anybody else is out on the balcony you can talk to them.

But I understand there is a strict set of times for doing that, no?
I can go out on my balcony at any time.

Right, because you have your own balcony with the suite.
Anybody else that has their own balcony, if you walk out there you can talk to them. You’re not close in proximity. You can talk to each other. And yes, there are these specific times that you can go up on deck. It’s about every three days for me. The last time I was up there I was the only English speaker. There was nobody for me to talk to.

Is everybody wearing masks up there? And I understand the ship keeps furnishing guests with different masks.
Yeah, so there’s like a pretty plain blue surgical mask. They’re much nicer masks now than what we started with. If you go out on deck you are required to wear those masks. Even opening your door you’re required to wear a mask.

I understand food has been delivered to everyone’s door. Room service. 

Are you getting decent fare?
So it depends on your tastes. Like last night I didn’t really eat my meal, because I’m a pretty picky eater. It really wasn’t something I liked at all.

What was it?
It was like a beef curry. I’ve actually been hoarding fruit and every meal they give us croissants and bakery type goods. I have a stockpile of those. They give us menus everyday. And you get a choice of three different items for each meal. Except breakfast. Breakfast, you get what you get. I would kill for just a hamburger or hot dog or something.

Hopefully that will be on your dinner menu when you get home. 
I think the thing on the menu when we get back is pizza. Me and my wife have already decided that. 

They were telling me the ship provided WiFi. They’re even upping the bandwidth. They said there’s these videos they’re supplying, like to do tai chi. 
Like folding napkins and doing origami. Things like that. I’ve mostly just been watching live TV. But actually the last couple days it’s been cutting in and out. The internet, when it works, is great. But it’s been really hit or miss.

I see some of the headlines online like “floating petri dish,” or whatever — I wonder how you’re processing all that.
I think there is a bit of hysteria from some passengers. I think that it’s percentage-wise a very low amount of passengers that have those feelings, but they have pretty loud voices. But for me and all the other passengers that I’ve been in close contact with — we don’t have that sentiment at all. The captain has come over the loudspeaker saying the air is fresh air. It’s not recycled air. There is no evidence of the virus spreading through the air. Just trying to reiterate to people that they are in a relatively safe environment.

How is it working with detecting the coronavirus?
So right now, everybody is self-monitoring their temperatures. And they’re supposed to be reporting when they get a fever. There are certain people that are not reporting because they are fearful of what would happen if they do. Sometimes I’m above the threshold and sometimes I’m below the threshold. I did report when I was above it.  And they retested me.

What kind of a test was it?
It was a swab test. So they basically take this giant Q-tip looking thing and they shove it down your throat. It’s like a deep throat swab.

Did they tell you the results right then?
No, the test results take 10 hours to three days to come back. Because they have to send them to a lab.

Are you in the clear?
As far as I know. So crossed fingers.

But your wife, with the cough I recall, how has her temperature been?
So she actually tested positive for the virus last Thursday. So she was taken to a hospital.

So you’re not with her?
No. No.

I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that. 
It’s all right.

Is she in Yokohama?
She’s in a hospital north of Tokyo.

OK. So last Thursday … so she has been admitted there?

How’s that going?
She’s doing OK. She hasn’t had any symptoms, even when being admitted. She is actually having more trouble with the food and the language than anything else. Physically she’s doing fine.

Do you know how she’s being treated? 
So they treat it a lot like they treat pneumonia. So fluids, and I think there’s reducing mucus and things like that. But she hasn’t received any treatment at all because she’ s not showing any symptoms.

Do you think they got the diagnosis wrong?
It’s always a possibility. It’s really hard to say.

What was it like when she left? How did that take place?
It was a pretty big talk. We got a knock on the door Thursday morning. And there were three Japanese officials and an interpreter that told my wife that she had tested positive for coronavirus, and I had tested negative. It was a big shock. And they said she had one hour to get ready and she would be in the hospital for three or four days and then return to the ship. But when she got to the hospital she was told she would be there for 14 days and she would not be returning to the ship. So she was very unprepared to be there for as long as she’s been there. She does have her phone so we are able to communicate with each other via text and FaceTime. So we talk to each other regularly.

How are her spirits? 
She’s doing OK. She was in pretty good spirits for the first couple of days. She kind of went through a period where she was down. Just the situation was pretty bad. Nobody speaks English. The food is not to her liking very much. Things like getting a shower — she actually has to pay for the towel to take a shower. Things like that. To watch TV she’s supposed to pay for the TV. It’s a bit of a culture shock. She’s doing a lot better the last couple days.

Do you have any sense where your wife could have contracted this?
It’s really hard to say.

You must be racking your brain. But it could have been just been touching a door handle, right? 
Could have been anything. We were in close proximity to other people on the cruise ship. There’s all sorts of entertainment. You walk past people in the hallway all the time. It’s really hard to say.

What was it like when they took her away?
Because she wasn’t showing any symptoms, it was never really a thought that we wouldn’t see each other again. If she was showing symptoms it would be a much different story. There was never a sense of worry from that standpoint. It was more about, ‘How are we going to get back together and when.’ We still don’t know the answer to that. I think the plan right now is we will just meet in Tokyo. We’ll meet there and then fly home together.

Have you met others that have had husbands, spouses or loved ones also go to the hospital. 
There is one couple that we know who initially the husband went to the hospital and later the wife tested positive. She went to the hospital, but they’re in different hospitals.

Any other impressions you’ve gotten of Rebecca’s hospital stay? 
In the hospital she’s been in a negative pressure room. So there was a plastic antechamber over her door to go in and out of the room. They have to zip in and out of it. That was removed yesterday or two days ago. It sounds like the hospital officials are not worried about her. She’s actually supposed to be getting retested today.

That’s pretty dramatic. But you seem to be holding it together well.
My personality is pretty — I’m pretty easy going. I don’t panic. And really freaking out is not going to do me any good in the long run. So it’s just staying calm. We’re in contact with each other. And, yeah, I mean it’s just a matter of time. We’ll get back together.

American on Cruise Describes Wife’s Coronavirus Diagnosis