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Coronavirus: Spouses being monitored in California as 2 Utahns remain hospitalized in Japan

‘We’ve never been separated this much before,’ husband says

John and Melanie Haering pose for a photo in Hong Kong. The couple is traveling aboard a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Japan due to exposure to the novel coronavirus.
John and Melanie Haering pose for a photo in Hong Kong. The couple is traveling aboard a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Japan due to exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Haering family

SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utahns who fell sick with coronavirus while quarantined aboard a cruise ship remained hospitalized in Japan Monday as their spouses settled in for a two-week stay a northern California military base.

John Haering, 63, who was aboard the Diamond Princess and tested positive for the novel coronavirus, now has pneumonia, his wife Melanie Haering said in a Monday Facebook post written from Travis Air Force Base. She arrived there over the weekend and was scheduled to undergo medical tests and monitoring with other passengers who returned to the United States.

“We are both very worried right now,” she wrote in the post, although she said she believes her husband is receiving good care. John Haering was removed from the ship about three days after becoming sick around Feb. 10.

Mark and Jerri Jorgensen take a photo on Feb. 1, 2020, during their cruise. About six days later they were quarantined on the ship due to exposure to the coronavirus. Jerri Jorgensen tested positive for the virus on Feb. 15, 2020, in Yokohama, Japan.
Mark Jorgensen

He and fellow Utahn Jerri Jorgensen remained in isolation in hospitals near Tokyo after testing positive for the new virus.

John Haering, a retired operations manager for Union Pacific Railroad who lives in Tooele, told the New York Times after his wife left on a charter flight that he no longer has symptoms or a fever but a CT scan indicated he has pneumonia.

The couple was celebrating his retirement with a six-month trip.

On Sunday, he said representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo urged him to speak with the cruise ship company about how he will eventually get home.

“It’s very scary,” he told the Times. “It feels like a little bit of abandonment.”

Jerri Jorgensen, 65, was in good spirits but was starting to get bored in her hospital room, her husband Mark Jorgensen told the Deseret News in an interview from Travis Air Force Base. The couple has been in touch over video chat as Jerri Jorgensen awaits permission to make her way back to the United States.

“She’s just a social person and there’s no one to talk to,” her husband said. She had been taken off the ship after developing a fever the evening of Feb. 14.

While it’s unsettling that his wife is in a hospital on the other side of the world, he is trying to stay calm by sticking to something of a normal routine, making work calls for his job running a southern Utah treatment center and keeping in touch with family and friends on the phone.

“We’ve never been separated this much before,” he said of his marriage.

The U.S. government sent chartered planes to Japan over the weekend to bring him back with other Americans quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship since Feb. 5. Some went to the California base; others to a base in Texas.

Mark Jorgensen recounted flying home from Japan and sitting near a white, sealed quarantine box in the fuselage with seats inside bolted to the floor. Video he took on the plane showed a person in a hazmat-style suit standing just outside the in-flight isolation unit.

Once he arrived at the California military base about 3 a.m. Monday, he said he was greeted with a kind welcome and a sandwich from Firehouse Subs.

He’s not certain what the next two weeks will look like in his temporary home, a hotel suite with two bedrooms and a kitchen where his meals are delivered on a chair outside the front door. He had yet to learn Monday whether he would be allowed to walk outside during his stay.

“I don’t even know what day it is. I’ll be OK. I just need some rest,” he said. “I imagine it will get pretty monotonous in the next few days, but so far it’s a change of scenery and that’s kind of nice.”

It was not known Monday whether Steve and June Gulbrandsen, a Bountiful couple who had been stranded on the separate Holland American cruise ship, had returned to the United States.

Of more than 300 Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess ship, 14 tested positive while waiting to board planes home. They were allowed to fly back and are now quarantined at a Nebraska hospital.

Contributing: Ladd Egan