ST. GEORGE — Jerri Jorgensen is coming home.
The St. George woman who was infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus during a vacation aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Asia will be back in her Southern Utah home in the next 24 hours after getting the all-clear from doctors.
Jerri Jorgensen and her husband, Mark Jorgensen, were on the culmination of an Asia trip aboard the Diamond Princess when people aboard the ship started coming down with COVID-19, and the ship was placed on quarantine. Mark Jorgensen was diagnosed with coronavirus and remains in the Emergency Preparedness Unit of Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah.
While free of the virus, Jerri Jorgensen told St. George News she is now having to deal with an even more contagious virus: Fear.
Jerri Jorgensen said after threats made to and about her, she has been contacted by the St. George Police Department and they are advising her. While she said she has not received any death threats, she has received several messages, including one stating that they would harm her if she got near them. She is also well aware of the various messages and comments on Facebook pages criticizing her returning to St. George.
“I don’t think anyone’s going to say, ‘I’m going to come to your house and slit your throat,’ but they are saying, ‘stay away, you better not ever be around me or my family or I will hurt you.’”
Because of that, she said despite being told by doctors that she is fine to interact with other people without protection and that she poses no threat to others, she is going into a self-imposed exile of sorts.
“Mark and I talked about it, and with these threats, we just really thought I’m just going to really lay low and let everyone know I’m laying low,” Jerri Jorgensen, who hasn’t been back to St.George in 45 days, said, though she refuses to call it a quarantine. “I’m not on house quarantine. I’m not doing that, but I will stay out of public places.”
She said she will stay in her house for the next few weeks and away from public places. She said she has a great deal of food stored, and if she needs anything, she will use services like DoorDash.
“I won’t be in any restaurant or anything like that, so I’m going to be really isolated,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “I will get to exercise and do the stuff that I’m craving, but as far as just public places, I just want the fear to die down and I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable that we’re coming home.”
One factor is that it’s hard to keep Jerri Jorgensen off her beloved mountain bike, and after getting her first taste of fresh air in 15 days, she said she will not just lock her doors and go into hermit mode. She plans to put her helmet back on and take to the large number of biking trails in the area, which is what Jorgensen said she has missed the most about home.
“The first I felt when I got out of the hospital was just the sunshine, the fresh air,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “I mean, just getting out my walk. I don’t know how many miles I did, but I just walked. And it was a sunny day, and I just was thinking what I took for granted.”
Jerri Jorgensen said she has had friends try to convince her not to just stay at home or give in to the fears of others.
“They say, ‘I don’t mountain bike, but I’m going to get one just so that I can be with you.’ So it’s kind of funny,” Jerri Jorgensen said.
Spreading even quicker than the virus itself have been myths about it. Jerri Jorgensen said she has been reassured by doctors that she poses absolutely no threat to anyone else.
“Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jerri Jorgensen has received a letter from the CDC clearing her for all travel and saying that there are no public health restrictions on her.
The CDC adds that those with the virus are most contagious only when they show symptoms of the disease, such as fever and respiratory distress.
“What my doctor said is, ‘You go back into the public, you do whatever you want.’ So this is totally my choice to take a step back and let St. George breathe a little bit, especially those ones with hysteria and ill-informed,” Jerri Jorgensen said.
“They have chosen, for whatever reason, to get on Facebook overload with all this craziness that’s going on there,” she added. “They’ve have chosen to listen to a lot of the media which is stirring it up like crazy instead of going to the CDC’s website or the World Health Organization’s website and get real information instead of all of this craziness.”
Jerri Jorgensen knows first-hand about one of the myths of the coronavirus — wearing a face mask. As evidence is a picture on Mark Jorgensen’s Facebook page of the couple wearing said masks. It didn’t stop either from getting the virus.
“I mean really, what’s with all the masks? The CDC has told people, ‘do not buy a mask. They are not for you. They don’t even work,’” Jerri Jorgensen said. “People would rather get their information from people that are just going to stir up emotions and just say things that they don’t know to be true.”
Jerri Jorgensen will go down in history as the first St. George resident to ever be infected with the COVID-19 virus, though officially there have been no cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The Utah Department of Health and the CDC officially only count cases of those actually infected in the state. This means the Jorgensens and the other Utah resident aboard the Diamond Princess infected – John Haering of Tooele, Utah – are not included in the count of those infected in the United States.
Haering returned to Utah earlier in the week after being cleared of the virus on Feb. 25.
Karey and Roger Maniscalo, the other St. George couple who were aboard the Diamond Princess, returned home to St. George Monday, according to Karey Maniscalo’s Facebook page. Neither Maniscalo was diagnosed with the virus, but they had been in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, since being evacuated from the ship on Feb. 17.
Ask either Jorgensen how they feel, and they will tell you they feel fine. In fact, if not for the positive test, they would have had no idea they were infected. No fever, cough or respiratory trouble. Just quarantines, monitoring and daily tests.
Mark and Jerri Jorgensen are co-founders of the Desert Solace addiction recovery center in St. George. Even while in quarantine, both have continued to handle business remotely through Facetime and other visual media, including the intake of patients.
More importantly, they are the parents of eight grown children and eight grandchildren, with a ninth arriving in July.
Jerri Jorgensen has been among those who have long taken advantage of the active lifestyle in the St. George area. In the past, when she hasn’t been working, Jerri Jorgensen could probably be best found riding the multitude of bike paths in the area. Jorgensen is among those wondering if that healthy lifestyle helped her get through being infected with the virus so easily.
“I have not had a cold or any kind of flu in probably three decades,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “I did test positive, but I had no symptoms. It was just weird that it would grab me when I am one of the healthiest people I know.”
Jerri Jorgensen is very complimentary of the care she received in Japan, including being provided with chocolates and yoga mats so she could continue to do her pilates. She never had a television, and she said the toughest thing was being without Internet in her first three days. Though when she did have access to the Internet, she did something she hadn’t been able to do in a while: binge Netflix shows “Lost in Space” and “Locke & Key.”
Something neither Jorgensen will have is a bill.
Jerri said the Japanese Ministry of Health paid for her ambulance transport and her medical care there. Princess Cruises paid for her flight home and is not only refunding the cruise but paying for a future cruise.
“We are not paying for anything,” Jerri Jorgensen said, adding that the care for her husband is federally mandated and they won’t be able to bill him for anything either.
But Jerri Jorgensen said she would rather have not dealt with the virus in the first place and doesn’t care about the free cruise or lack of other bills. But, like those she helps at Desert Solace, the Jorgensens are content to accept what has happened and move forward.
“We never looked at it like, ‘Oh this shouldn’t have happened,’ or, ‘You know, I can’t believe we’re in the situation,'” Jerri Jorgensen said. “This is what it is. And that’s what we teach … live in the moment.”
Jerri Jorgensen said her positive attitude surprised Congressman Chris Stewart when he called her, saying he commented on how her positivity was different than what he had heard from others with the virus.
“It’s a choice that we can stay positive, or we have a choice that we can stay negative and be a victim and be angry and all that kind of stuff,” Jerri Jorgensen said.
As for Mark Jorgensen, he remains in the isolated unit of Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City area where he has been since Friday. He told St. George News that he is being tested daily and will need two negative tests in 24 hours before he can be cleared to return home. That appears to be a while off, especially when the pace of getting test results remains slow.
While the Utah Department of Health said they will shortly have in-state testing up and running, test samples are still sent to the CDC in Atlanta.
“I’ve still not gotten the test results from Sunday,” Mark Jorgensen said Wednesday afternoon.
While it is a disappointment to come home without her husband, Jerri Jorgensen is accepting that she’ll have to wait a little bit longer to be reunited.
“Even if we were in the same hospital, we would be quarantined in different rooms. So it wouldn’t have mattered,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “We were not even on the same continent.”
As Jerri Jorgensen returns home, there’s also one less advantage to being the first back.
“We were joking that the one that got home first had to clean the house,” Jerri Jorgensen said. “I got lots of cleaning to do.”
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