American quarantined on the Diamond Princess: The worst is over, let's choose optimism.
We have a legal and ethical obligation to be quarantined. The benefits to public health are worth being inconvenienced for a few more days.
Three months ago, I sat in a Starbucks in Tianjin, China, with three of my friends finalizing the details of a vacation that we all expected would be a once in a lifetime experience. Ninety days later, I’ve realized while the latter might be true, it is a far cry from a typical vacation.
I boarded the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan, on Monday, Jan. 20, and was scheduled to disembark on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
When we arrived back in Yokohama on the evening of Feb. 3, a Japanese quarantine crew came on board and systematically interviewed every passenger on the ship. Over the course of the next 36 hours, they conducted interviews with everyone on board, more than 3,700 passengers and crew members, as well as follow-up tests for those identified as “high-risk.”
I had come down with a fever about a week before the ship was quarantined and was, along with my three friends, selected as part of that initial group of passengers to be given the test for the coronavirus. The morning after we were tested, the captain made an announcement that 10 people had tested positive for the virus and that we would be undergoing a quarantine of no less than 14 days.
On the second day of the quarantine, we learned an additional 20 people had tested positive, and then another 41 people on the third day.
These first few days were the most emotionally taxing, as we quickly learned that our tests were part of an initial batch of 273 samples and that the first 10 cases reported on day one were only from the first 31 samples that had been processed. We spent every waking moment during those first three days waiting for a knock at the door and a notice that one of us had tested positive. At the end of day three, the captain announced that the 41 passengers who tested positive that day had been disembarked and that the Japanese health authorities had completed their analysis of the first batch of samples.
Emotional roller coaster settles down
In the subsequent days, the emotional roller coaster that has been this quarantine has become substantially less exhausting. While there have still been highs and lows, most of the days have been spent simply speaking with friends and family, reading books, watching movies and playing card games. There were even a few days where I was able to take out the sunscreen and spend a few hours in the sunshine pretending like this was the vacation I had hoped for all along.
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As the quarantine has progressed, I noticed some of my fellow passengers complain about the conditions on board. While I recognize that the conditions on the ship are not as sanitary as a first-rate medical facility, I do not believe the Diamond Princess has acted as an incubator for the coronavirus during the course of the quarantine.
Astonishing numbers of “new” cases have been reported over the past few days, but it is important to remember that the first passenger diagnosed with the virus was on this ship, mingling with over 2,600 other passengers for five days before disembarking in Hong Kong.
It is not my intention to discredit the concerns of my fellow passengers, but it is possible that many of the 218 people who have tested positive up to this point were already infected with the virus prior to the beginning of the quarantine.
Regardless of whether I’m on a cruise ship in Japan or at a quarantine facility in the United States, I have both a legal and an ethical obligation to undergo a 14-day quarantine in order to protect the health and wellbeing of those around me. Both the crew on the Diamond Princess and the Japanese government have gone above and beyond in their efforts to effectively quarantine passengers and minimize the risk of this virus continuing to spread.
I’ve realized that you learn a lot about people when they’re put in unexpected, stressful situations such as this. Being knee deep in the middle of a crisis leaves a person with two options — optimism or pessimism. The former gives a person strength, and the latter gives rise to fear.
I choose the former, holding the belief that both Princess Cruises and the Japanese government will continue to do everything in their power to contain the spread of the coronavirus and that, God-willing, everyone who is still on board will be able to return home to their loved ones, virus free, in mere days.
Spencer Fehrenbacher is a masters student in Tianjin, China, studying international business.