Half of cruise ship couple from St. George cleared of new virus, husband settles into Utah quarantined room

Stock photo of nurse holding test tube with blood for 2019-nCoV analyzing | Photo by photoguns/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The first St. George resident diagnosed with the COVID-19 coronavirus during a cruise ship vacation will be discharged Monday after two straight negative tests for the virus.

Mark Jorgensen, who was diagnosed himself with the virus earlier in the week, told St. George News that his wife Jerri no longer has the virus and will be discharged early next week.

“She got her two negative tests and will be discharged Monday,” Mark Jorgensen said of his wife.

Two negative tests in 24 hours are required before a patient is declared in the clear from the virus. 

Jerri and Mark Jorgensen seen on January 31, 2020 in front of Liberty Square in Taipei, Taiwan, during their Asia vacation. The trip culminated in the two St. George residents being quarantined on their Diamond Princess cruise ship and later contracting the COVAD-19 virus. | Photo courtesy Mark Jorgensen, St. George News

While the Jorgensens recover, the first death in the U.S. was reported Saturday from the new virus that has quickly become a worldwide pandemic. The death, in Washington state, was of a man in his late 50s who did not travel overseas. 

The Jorgensens, the co-founders of the Desert Solace recovery center in St. George, did contract the virus overseas – during a cruise ship vacation on the Diamond Princess that ended up being quarantined on Feb. 5 in the bay of Yokohama, Japan. 

Jerri Jorgensen was diagnosed on Feb. 15 and has since been in an isolated room of a Yokohama hospital. Mark Jorgensen was evacuated to a quarantined unit of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, on Feb. 17. He tested positive for the virus on Feb. 26 and was moved to a nearby hospital before being moved Friday to the Emergency Preparedness Unit of Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.

It is unclear what Jerri Jorgensen’s destination will be once she is discharged on Monday, but Mark – who has settled in to his self-contained medical unit near Salt Lake City – isn’t expecting a visit right away.

“I don’t think she’ll come visit me,” Mark Jorgensen said. “There’s no point. She can’t come in. My room is very sterile and hospital-like.”

The Jorgensens are two of three Utah residents who contracted the virus on the Diamond Princess. John Haering, of Tooele, Utah, also had the virus but was cleared Wednesday as virus-free by doctors in Japan to return home.

Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. Undated photo. | Photo courtesy Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

Officials at the Medical Center said Friday that the move of Jorgensen to Utah was made at the request of the Centers for Disease Control., but Jorgensen told St. George News Saturday that he had some say as well.

“They needed to move me from the hospital I was in, so I asked if I could be closer to home if they had to move me. They wanted to move me to Oakland,” Jorgensen said, adding that wasn’t close enough. “The doctor got busy and made it happen.”

Neither of the Jorgensens have experienced adverse symptoms from the virus such as fever or respiratory trouble, only testing positive for the virus. The lack of symptoms showing in most people is part of why the virus spreads so quickly. 

Jorgensen is being tested daily and like his wife will need two negative tests in 24 hours before being discharged. 

The testing process as it stands now is taking three to four days to get a result. Dr. Angela Dunn, who is leading the Utah state response to COVID-19, said test samples are currently having to be sent back East to the CDC.

Jorgensen expressed frustration earlier in the week in a conversation with St. George News when he was still in a Northern California hospital.

“I don’t know why,” Jorgensen said. “You know, I’m within an hour of incredible facilities in universities and other places that are more than capable.”

Dunn said Thursday the good news for Jorgensen and others in the state is there should testing available in Salt Lake City by next week, changing the turnaround for results to no more than 24 hours. 

More evidence of the COVID-19 virus being an inevitable part of Utahn’s lives came Saturday after the first U.S. death from a virus-related illness was reported. 

Initially, the CDC reported the fatality as a woman, in the King County area of Washington state, who did not travel overseas but contracted the virus from someone in the States according to the CDC. 

“She was a wonderful woman. A high-risk patient in her late 50s,” President Donald Trump announced at a White House press conference Saturday, noting the person had a chronic condition that exacerbated her illness. “Additional cases are likely but healthy people should be able to recover. Healthy people, if you’re healthy you’ll probably go through a process and be fine.”

On Sunday, the CDC issued a correction that the person who died was male.

Illustrative vial of coronavirus in freezer. Undated photo illustration. | Photo by Manjurul, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

During the same press conference, Vice President Mike Pence announced the highest travel advisory possible, Level 4, warning Americans not to travel to specific regions in Italy and South Korea.

As of the end of the day Friday, the World Health Organization said 83,652 people in 51 countries have been diagnosed with the virus with over 2,900 deaths.  

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized at the White House press conference that for a majority of Americans, COVID-19 is not a death sentence. 

“Most of the people who will get into trouble are the elderly and those with serious, chronic conditions,” he said. 

Ed. note: This report was revised to note the correction on Sunday by the CDC that the person who died in Washington was male, not female.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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