A couple from Manassas, Virginia, is among the thousands who were on board a cruise ship in Japan that’s been quarantined after the coronavirus was detected in dozens of passengers and crew members on board. In fact, the couple has been split up, with Athene Bell taken to a Japanese hospital after she says she tested positive for the virus. Her husband remains with thousands of others who are still on board the ship.
Athene Bell, of Manassas, is in a Japanese hospital after being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 43,000 people worldwide, killing more than 1,000. But you wouldn’t know it from speaking with her.
“I am feeling just great,” she told WTOP in a phone conversation from her hospital room. “I never have demonstrated any of the typical characteristics of the virus. They say if you have the virus that you develop a cough, perhaps diarrhea, a headache, that you have an overall feeling of malaise; you have nausea; you have a runny nose. I’ve not demonstrated any of those characteristics.”
Bell said everyone on the Diamond Princess had to undergo a throat swab that was sent for analysis. She’s one of about 135 people who tested positive, about 65 of whom were asked to leave the ship. She’s been in the hospital for about a week and hopes she’ll be headed home in another week.
She had nothing but praise for the doctors and nursing staff who have been attending to her needs, saying she’s been lucky to be treated so well.
“I am so impressed with the staff and the people,” said Bell. “They’ve opened up their arms and they’re extremely kind.”
For now, her husband, Rod, is still on the ship.
“They’re pretty much in their rooms almost all of the time,” Bell said. “We have a room there that has a balcony, so that means you can walk out on the balcony, can look outside.”
She said passengers have also been allowed out on the deck for about an hour each day to move around and get some fresh air. She added that passengers have been told they’ll be reimbursed for the cost of this cruise, and will be allowed to take a free cruise in the future too.
But for now, Bell said, she can’t wait to get home after a vacation that turned out to be far different from what she planned.
As soon as she gets out of the hospital, Bell said she plans on getting on a plane and going home to the United States to be with her husband.
“I absolutely am eager to get home,” Bell said.
‘The risk is very low’
The closed-off environment of a cruise ship seems like a nightmare scenario when it comes to spreading a virus, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said safe conditions can be created, and that as far as he can tell the Japanese authorities are doing just that.
“Right now, the quarantine is excluding people in rooms that are separated from the others throughout the ship,” Fauci told WTOP Tuesday. “The safest place for these people … to be taken care of in comfort — and if they do get sick to be evacuated from the ship and get to the medical care they need — is in a place that would require quarantine. And a ship is a place where you can do that.”
It might seem like the possibility of communicating a virus through recirculated air, and by the food that the ship’s staff is still bringing to passengers, would be cause for concern. Fauci said it’s all relative.
“The crew have been screened; they don’t appear to be infected. But you’ve got to be able to get food and comfort to the people who are being quarantined.”
He added, “You can always raise the hypothetical ‘Isn’t it possible that …?’ Well, you know, a lot of things are possible. But the risk is very low, and they’ve made the judgment to proceed.”
When it comes to situations like theses, Fauci said, “You never say never and you never say always…This is something that’s unlikely, really to happen. And the safety of being in a quarantine situation really overrides this hypothetical risk.”
He added that in dealing with the new infection, “There are a lot of unknowns here; we really do need to be somewhat humble.”
WTOP’s Rick Massimo contributed to this report.
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