An Eden Prairie couple has returned to the U.S. after being quarantined on a cruise ship near Japan where nearly 100 people tested positive for COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, KARE 11 reported on Feb. 17.
Amy Ellefson and Ron Hildeen, of Eden Prairie, set sail from Yokohama, Japan, aboard the Diamond Princess cruise on Jan. 20, according to a story on KARE 11. Just before the ship was scheduled to return, a passenger tested positive for the new coronavirus which health organizations are monitoring around the world.
The ship went into quarantine on Feb. 4, according to a news release from the cruise line. There were 2,666 passengers and 1,045 employees on board.
The atmosphere was eerie, the couple told KARE 11. Passengers stayed in their cabins for most of the day, and they wore masks and stayed several feet from other people if they left their rooms. The ship's crew delivered meals, face masks and thermometers to passengers' cabins, where the couple entertained themselves with cards, movies and games.
On Feb. 15, after 12 days of quarantine, the U.S. State Department chartered flights to transport all U.S. citizens and permanent residents on the ship back to the U.S., according to a news release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were around 400 U.S. citizens and permanent residents on board the cruise ship. All travelers who returned on the chartered flights are now in another 14-day quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in California or Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, the release says.
The Canadian government will also be flying its citizens and residents on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship back to Canada, the cruise line said on Feb. 17.
As of Feb. 24, 79,331 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in 37 countries, according to the World Health Organization; 77,262 of those cases are in China, and the majority of those are in Hubei Province, where medical professionals believe COVID-19 originated.
In China, 2,595 people have died from the virus, but no other countries have reported deaths from the illness.
As awareness of COVID-19 spreads, the World Health Organization is advising people to turn to trusted sources for knowledge about the virus in order to fight "confusion, anxiety and fear" and ensure that those who are affected by the virus get the help they need.
"In the case of COVID-19, there are an increasing number of reports of public stigmatization against people from areas affected by the epidemic," the organization said in a Feb. 24 news update. "We all need to be intentional and thoughtful when communicating on social media and other communication platforms, showing supportive behaviors around COVID-19."
The CDC states coronaviruses likely originate from animals like cats and cattle and can infect people, though rare. The 2019 strain is thought to have come from bats, evolving into Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The virus shows up in the form of a fever, cough and shortness of breath, the Minnesota Department of Health said, but public health officials are still determining how fatal it is.
Other symptoms include muscle aches, diarrhea and headaches. The MDH said it likely spreads via respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is not currently spreading in the United States, the CDC said, and local officials add it’s not causing worry in Minnesota.
“Right now, there’s basically minimal risk or concern for Minnesota,” said Richard Scott, director of health services with Carver County earlier this month. “Right now there is no recommendation in Minnesota to shut down events or anything like that because there are no confirmed cases here.”
There are currently no confirmed cases in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). There is one pending case of a person under investigation (a person who met the established criteria for laboratory testing) and three people whose test results came back negative.
The U.S. government suspended entry into the country from foreign nationals who’ve visited China in the weeks following a Jan. 30 public health emergency announcement, according to the White House.
The more immediate concern, Scott said, is the flu.
“I’ve seen more people die from the flu really than what we probably anticipate with the coronavirus (locally),” he said.
To prevent spreading the flu, he recommends the tried-and-true methods: Covering your cough, staying home when ill, and calling the clinic with symptoms before showing up.
Amy Felegy contributed to this article.