ST. GEORGE — A St. George cruise ship passenger who was in coronavirus quarantine after being forced to leave his infected wife behind in Japan has been diagnosed with the coronavirus himself.
Back in Utah, state and Intermountain Healthcare medical officials held a news conference Thursday at which they said the virus has the potential to disrupt Utahns’ lives and laid out their plans to deal with it.
Mark Jorgensen had this Monday marked on his calendar. That was the day the St. George man was to be eligible to be released from quarantine at an Air Force Base in the San Francisco Bay area.
He had to leave his wife, Jerri Jorgensen, behind in Japan on Feb. 17 after she tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The couple had been among the Americans stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the bay of Yohohama since Feb. 5.
On Tuesday night, with just days remaining in his quarantine, Mark Jorgensen was told he had the virus himself.
“My first thought was, ‘You’re kidding me. There’s no way. That can’t be, that can’t be true because how can I be negative before and positive now?’” Mark Jorgensen told St. George News. At the same time, having been exposed to the disease between his wife and what amounted to a floating petri dish in Yokohama bay, Mark Jorgensen said he wasn’t completely surprised.
“It’s not an easy thing to hear. But same time, I wasn’t totally stunned,” Mark Jorgensen said. “I knew I’d had a lot of exposure.”
Some have questioned keeping the passengers on the Diamond Princess so long, but Mark Jorgensen isn’t ready to play the blame game.
“That’s a tough call, and I’m glad it wasn’t my call to make,” Mark Jorgensen said. “The obvious answer is, no, they shouldn’t have stayed on the ship. But on the other hand, where else were they going to put them?”
Mark Jorgensen is familiar with hospital rooms, having been a kidney transplant survivor.
The couple had been stranded on the Diamond Princess in the bay of Yokohama since Feb. 5. Two days after Jerri Jorgensen was moved to a Yokohama hospital to receive treatment, Mark was moved by U.S. officials to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.
After he was diagnosed Tuesday night, he has been moved to NorthBay Medical Center in Fairfield where he will remain isolated in a quarantined hospital room until he can have two negative tests for the virus in 24 hours.
Ironically, Mark Jorgensen said Jerri Jorgensen is having positive signs of being over the virus. In her latest tests in Japan, a nose swab tested negative while a throat swab was positive.
In fact, neither of the Jorgensens have actually experienced symptoms like a fever or respiratory discomfort.
“It is frustrating because I have no symptoms at all, and I feel totally fine and yet here I sit,” Mark Jorgensen said.
Jerri and Mark Jorgensen have been in constant video communication through their personal devices, with Jerri Jorgensen showing off a yoga mat she gets to use and chocolates received from hospital staff.
“What’s the deal with that?” Mark Jorgensen said. “But yeah, she’s got a little bit more of a spacious room, which is ironic given how small a room we stayed in at a hotel in Tokyo.”
In their day job, the Jorgensens are the founders of the Desert Solace recovery center in St. George for those recovering from such addictions as pornography, sex addiction and other addictions. Mark says that thanks to technology, he has a job where he doesn’t have to physically be there all the time and has been able to continue day-to-day operations with just some tasks having to be delegated.
He is quickly finding some of the techniques applied to those recovering at Desert Solace can now apply to him, as can his faith as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member. For one thing, it can all be about staying positive.
“Positivity can just be a mask as well as any as much as anything else. So, it’s not about being positive. It’s just surrendering and accepting,” Mark Jorgensen said. “That’s kind of a main theme of addiction is to surrender and acknowledge. This is what it is and be okay with what it is.
“This is not an ideal situation to be in, and you know, I don’t necessarily like it, but it is what it is and, you know, have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” Mark Jorgensen added. “And that’s kind of what we’ve been able to practice and incorporate. Basically practice what we preach, right?”
Mark Jorgensen said it is also a time for lessons. He has plenty of time to think about those lessons as he recovers.
“My faith allows me to see a bigger picture, that this is a blip in the scheme of things,” he said. “This is an opportunity for me to learn some lesson, whatever that might be. Serenity, or solitude, or be more appreciative of my wife, or being more appreciative of just the gifts of everyday life that we all take for granted.”
When both of the Jorgensens have the virus out of their system, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health said at a news conference Thursday that they will pose absolutely no threat to their fellow residents in St. George.
“There is no risk of them spreading it to the general population,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, who is also with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leading the statewide COVID-19 response.
Jorgensen said it has come to mind what people will think when he gets back to St. George.
“I can’t change what other people say or do or think. But what I would say to them is, ‘Hey, I’ve been tested, and I know I don’t have it,” he said. “Can the rest of the people around you say the same thing?”
According to the World Health Organization, as of Thursday, 82,294 people in 46 countries have been infected with the virus and, 2,804 people have lost their lives worldwide. The CDC said as of Thursday, there are 59 Americans confirmed to be infected, with 42, like the Jorgensens, coming from the Diamond Princess. There have been no American deaths.
The Utah Department of Health said Thursday that 12 individuals in the state have been tested for the virus, but all have come up negative.
The virus itself is not fatal, but it can lead to more serious conditions like pneumonia – especially in the elderly.
Dunn said the CDC and the Utah Department of Health are listing separately those who have contracted the disease outside the United States. Thus, Utah officially remains without any official infections of the disease despite the Jorgensens and one other Utah resident who was aboard the Diamond Princess who has been diagnosed with the virus.
What Dunn did say is it may not be a case of if, but when, the virus comes to Utah.
“While the risk for people living in Utah is low, there is the potential for a significant disruption to our daily lives in the near future,” Dunn said. “Our response in the United States and in Utah specifically could start to look like what we’re seeing in China, Japan and Italy.”
Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said at the Thursday press conference that unlike the 10% mortality rate of the SARS coronavirus outbreak of 2003, COVID-19 has only a 2% mortality rate. However, it might be able to be spread easier as many who have it may not experience any ill effects, such as is the case with the Jorgensens.
“You have a lot more spread because you’ll have individuals that don’t realize you have it and are spreading it,” Miner said.
The CDC is now recommending all Americans avoid all non-essential travel to China and South Korea, and older adults and chronic adults should also avoid non-essential travel to Japan, Italy and Iran.
Dunn said the public will be alerted within 24 hours if a person tests positive in Utah. She listed three non-pharmaceutical interventions that will take place to curb the spread of the virus in the state:
- Personal interventions that will be asked of the public such as staying home when sick and washing hands on a regular basis.
- Community interventions to limit social interactions, including canceling of school, church services and other mass gatherings.
- Environmental interventions including widespread cleaning of public surfaces like busses and trains.
Health officials said at the press conference that thus far, the virus has not been particularly harmful to children. However, children can still carry the virus without symptoms and infect those more susceptible to its effects.
“If schools are going to be amplifying centers, we have to think about closures,” said Dr. Andrew Pavila, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine.
What isn’t necessary is making a run to the hardware or medical supply store for face masks.
“There is misinformation out there. Face masks are not useful to the general public,” Dunn said. “Face masks are for people who are sick from infecting other individuals.”
As for Intermountain Healthcare facilities like Dixie Regional Medical Center and Cedar City Hospital, Intermountain’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention Kristin Dascomb said at the press conference that they will be ready.
“We have worked as a team to develop care processes and acquire the supplies we need to care for all patients,” Dascomb said. “While you’ll hear about concerns about supplies of respiratory supplies being in high demand, Intermountain has the supplies we need.”
Meanwhile, after a long vacation, 12 days quarantined on a cruise ship, another 10 quarantined on an Air Force Base and an uncertain time in a hospital room ahead, Mark Jorgensen is trying to do what he can to remain in good spirits.
“You can only watch so much TV and play on your phone so much, and you kind of go a little stir crazy. So I’m kind of getting there especially since it’s such a nice day outside,” Mark Jorgensen said. “I can see out of but just enough to see into the employees smoking area. I’ve got a nice view of that. It’s a little unnerving, but I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
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