Bill and Colette Smedley are still in quarantine, but they are are back in the United States, on a second floor of an apartment at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and not a windowless cabin deep inside the coronavirus-infected Diamond Princess cruise ship. It was quarantined with approximately 3,700 passengers and crew members for nearly two weeks at the Japanese port of Yokohama.
“I can open up and see outside and see daylight” from the balcony, said Bill Smedley, 66, of Dillsburg, just southwest of Harrisburg, by telephone on Monday night. He said there was grass in front of the building and he intended to walk on it in the morning. The couple can’t go any farther because they are surrounded by a newly erected fence, with spotlights at each corner, and guards.
On Sunday, the Smedleys and more than 300 other Americans were evacuated from the ship. Testing showed 14 of the American passengers had the virus. Although the Smedleys have not tested positive, they joined the other evacuees on flights to another 14-day quarantine at U.S. military bases.
The massive cruise ship was reportedly placed under quarantine on Feb. 4, though Smedley recalled the official start as being Feb. 5, after people on board tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed total topped 450 on Monday.
There are more than 70,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection, most in China, where the virus emerged in Wuhan in late December, according to the World Health Organization. More than 1,300 people have died of the pneumonia-like illness.
The Smedleys’ vacation, for their 33rd wedding anniversary and her 65th birthday, began on Jan. 6. The retired couple — he was a salesman for a seed company and she was an IT project manager for the U.S. Department of Defense in Mechanicsburg, Pa. — love to travel on cruise ships and wanted to get away from the Pennsylvania winter. The cruise took them to Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
With each passing day, they became more keenly aware of the coronavirus outbreak. “The anxiety level grew and grew and grew,” Smedley said.
On Jan. 31, they stopped in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year festivities. “A lot of people didn’t get off the ship,” he said.
The cruise was to end on Feb. 3, and the Smedleys had packed the night before. “We had our luggage out in our hall,” he recalled.
The next day, he said, they were not allowed to disembark because someone from the ship had tested positive. At some point on Feb. 4 or 5, the ship was officially declared under quarantine by the Japanese government.
The Smedleys were stuck in their interior cabin, which he described as about 10 by 20 feet, not counting the bathroom and closet space, in an above-deck level. They got out each day in small groups for about an hour to get fresh air and exercise. They had to wear face masks for their brief excursions.
Smedley praised the cruise company. “They did everything they could possibly do,” he said.
Princess Cruises has said it will reimburse the cost of the cruise and pay for an additional one in the future. Smedley said that will pay for their cruise next winter through the Panama Canal. And they will make sure, he said, to get a room with a balcony.