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Utah hospital treating state’s first coronavirus patient

St. George man contracted virus after being quarantined on a cruise ship near Japan.

Dr. Todd Vento and Dr. Angela Dunn speak about their coronavirus patient being treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Mark Jorgensen, 55, of St. George, contracted the virus after he and his wife had been quarantined for multiple days on a cruise ship outside of Japan.
Dr. Todd Vento and Dr. Angela Dunn speak about their coronavirus patient being treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Mark Jorgensen, 55, of St. George, contracted the virus after he and his wife had been quarantined for multiple days on a cruise ship outside of Japan.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

MURRAY — Intermountain Medical Center confirmed Friday that it is treating a St. George man who is infected with the coronavirus.

Mark Jorgensen is one of the former passengers from a Diamond Princess cruise ship that quarantined hundreds of passengers beginning Feb. 5, after an infected passenger spent five days on the ship before disembarking a few days earlier.

Jorgensen, 55, was transferred from California to Utah at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Utah Department of Health.

“This patient had tested positive for ... the coronavirus infectious disease, COVID-19,” said Dr. Todd Vento, infectious disease physician for Intermountain Healthcare.

Jorgensen was transferred via a chartered flight and then with a specially trained ambulance crew, and he agreed to allow doctors to share his information with the public.

“He had requested to be closer to home,” Vento said. “It became clear that it would be better for him to have him come back to Utah. That said, I would like to emphasize he has never had symptoms throughout his entire course. He has never had symptoms, in terms of, no cough, no shortness of breath, no fever, no symptoms whatsoever.

“We’ve spoken to him earlier this evening prior to his transfer, and he actually shared that it was OK to say that he felt perfectly normal.”

Jorgensen arrived just a few hours before a Friday evening press conference — four days after he learned he had tested positive while quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

“He’s actually being cared for in our emergency preparedness unit,” Vento explained. “And this is a specially designed unit on the campus of Intermountain Medical Center.

“It was actually specifically designed to care for emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19, as well as Ebola virus. ... This unit, in particular, not only has the capability structure-wise and equipment-wise to take care of individuals with communicable diseases or highly communicable diseases, but we also have staff that have been specifically trained in the unit for this very circumstance.”

Hospital and state health officials said they understand there may be concerns about the hospital agreeing to take the patient, but they said there is no risk to other patients, hospital staff or to the general public. In fact, they don’t anticipate taking any other patients with the coronavirus who do not have a connection to Utah.

‘Weird feeling’

Jorgensen posted a Facebook video late Friday where he talked in-depth about the transfer. Not only is he the only patient in the entire building, he said he’s the first patient to stay in the specially-designed facility.

“There’s just me and two nurses and two security guards,” he said. “It’s a weird feeling.”

Jorgansen said he saw negative comments on news sites on Facebook, and he is trying to avoid reading or hearing those fearful sentiments. He also said officials asked him not to tell anyone he was coming to Utah until after he arrived and doctors could address media questions.

“It’s hard to get used to this idea that people are that interested,” he said.

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 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

As a way to minimize risk, Vento said Intermountain will utilize its TeleHealth technologies that allow doctors to communicate through computers and phones to limit unnecessary exposure. This is something that is available to the public through Intermountain Connect Care.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and Vento suggested anyone who believes they have been exposed to the virus use Connect Care, rather than going to an emergency room or private doctor’s office, which would limit the exposure of more fragile people and patients.

Dunn said Utah has tested 11 patients for the COVID-19 virus, and all have tested negative. Four tests were pending Friday. Jorgensen was tested before being transported to Utah, and has two outstanding tests that were administered before he arrived at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. He was also tested at the Murray hospital Friday, but none of the results from those tests had been received by Friday night.

“The risk to Utahns for COVID-19 still remains low,” Dunn said. “We are also excited to say that we are going to be able to test at the Utah Public Health Laboratory starting next week. Up until this point, we’ve had to send all of our samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, creating approximately a three-day lag time in getting test results.”

Vento said medical staff treating Jorgensen are working with doctors who administered the tests in California, as well as Jorgensen’s personal doctors in St. George, as he is a kidney transplant recipient and there may be unique issues that arise because of that.

After receiving news of his positive test, Jorgensen was taken by ambulance from Travis Air Force Base to a hospital in Fairfield. The possibility of being transferred to Utah came up after a doctor told him he was going to be transferred to a hospital in Oakland, and he reached out to a liason he’d been working with to see if there were any other options.

“She called me back later, and said, ‘Hey guess what, we’re going to take you to IMC — Intermountain Medical Center in Murray,” Jorgensen said in the Facebook video. “And I said, ‘Well cool, that’s 300 miles from home, but close enough, I’ll take it for now. ... I thought that’s exciting.”

Jorgensen’s wife

Jorgensen was one of four Utahns who were confined to the Diamond Princess cruise ship for about 10 days as it stayed docked in the Port of Yokohama, Japan. Jorgensen and his wife, Jerri, were separated when Jerri Jorgensen was confirmed to have coronavirus on Feb. 15. At that time, Mark Jorgensen tested negative, and in fact, Vento confirmed Mark Jorgensen had two negative tests before testing positive while quarantined at Travis Air Force Base.

Jerri Jorgensen was moved from the ship to a hospital in Fukashima, Japan, while Mark Jorgensen flew back to the United States two days later on a flight chartered by the U.S. government, along with 327 other U.S. citizens, including Tooele resident Melanie Haering, whose husband John was the first confirmed Utahn to contract the virus just a few days before Jerri Jorgensen tested positive.

Jerri Jorgensen, 65, was removed from the ship on Feb. 15, and her husband and Haering flew to California on that chartered flight on Feb. 17.

Haering’s husband, John, recently tested negative for the second time, and he’s been released from a hospital in Chiba, Japan. Just hours before he learned that he’d be leaving the hospital, his wife sent him an emotional video letting him know she had tested negative while quarantined at Travis Air Force Base. She’s supposed to finish her 14-day quarantine on Monday, while John Haering, who was battling pneumonia as well as the virus, awaits clearance from the CDC to fly home.

Mark Jorgensen got a bit of good news about his wife as he traveled back to Utah Friday.

“I spoke with (Mark) several hours ago,” Vento said. “He was in very good spirits and very knowledgeable ... he’s had a lot of time to read about COVID-19. ... He did say it was OK to share this with others and that’s very positive news that his wife actually got her first negative test, and they’re waiting for the next negative test. As soon as she gets that second negative, they will coordinate to get her here to Utah as well.”

In Friday’s Facebook video, Jorgensen showed friends his room, which is spacious but spartan. He said he was thrilled that there is an exercise bike in the room, but he was disappointed he didn’t get to watch the Utah Jazz/Washington Wizards game because the TV wasn’t working.

He ended by thanking those who have prayed for him and said he has felt that love and support, despite all that he and his wife are experiencing.

Dr. Todd Vento and Dr. Angela Dunn speak about their coronavirus patient being treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Mark Jorgensen, 55, of St. George, contracted the virus after he and his wife had been quarantined for multiple days on a cruise ship outside of Japan.
Dr. Todd Vento and Dr. Angela Dunn speak about their coronavirus patient being treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. Mark Jorgensen, 55, of St. George, contracted the virus after he and his wife had been quarantined for multiple days on a cruise ship outside of Japan.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News