Edwards Couple Reflects On Diamond Princess Quarantine

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Norman Koelling and his wife Peggy Jones-Koelling, of Edwards, sailed out of the sovereign city-state and island country of Singapore, aboard the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, on January 6, 2020. They arrived at Yokohama, Japan, on January 20, during the first leg of their journey and picked up more passengers. Then, they cruised to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Okinawa and other places before returning to Yokohama on February 3, a day earlier than scheduled. Instead of carrying out plans to disembark, the crew and passengers were put into quarantine for what was expected to be 14 days onboard the ship by the Japanese government. But they only spent 12 days onboard in quarantine.“When the cruise ship stopped in Hong Kong, one of the passengers left the cruise because he became very sick,” said Norman Koelling. “No one checked to see what was wrong with him until he went to a hospital and was found to have the coronavirus. The Japanese government was notified of his situation and ordered the quarantine of the ship. We were all tested on the ship, but we did not receive our results until we were sent to Travis AFB.”Koelling said that many people on the cruise were senior citizens, including he and his wife, and one set of grandparents had two grandchildren with them in an inside stateroom without windows. During the first three days of quarantine aboard ship, no one was allowed to leave theirrooms. And, after that they were only allowed to leave rooms for one and a-half hours, every other day. The release from rooms was done by deck.“One thing that was on my mind was ‘How much medicine should you pack for a cruise?’” said Koelling. “I had packed an extra five days of meds because we had planned to stay in Tokyo a few days after the cruise. So, 26 doctors and other medical professionals were brought on board to fill prescriptions for those who were running out of their supplies. The only problem was that most of the new prescriptions were in containers that had Japanese instructions. I tried to decipher which medicine was which by looking at the dosage number, and the color of pills. Then, I asked a doctor and nurse who were in the room next door if I had figured out my medicines correctly. I had.”Koelling said that while they were on the ship, the U.S. State Department sent emails to passengers telling them what was going on, and that it was working with the Japanese government. The emails stated that they would either be sent by jet to Lackland AFB in Texas or
Travis AFB in California. After disembarking the cruise ship, eleven buses were used to transport passengers to a 747 Cargo plane that had an isolation booth, and old seats. They had to climb up steps from the tarmac to get onboard.“On February 16, at 9 AM, our luggage was picked up at our stateroom door by Japanese Army personal in hazmat suits.” said Koelling. “Then, State Department officials told us what bus to get on and took our passports. Peggy and I were on different buses. The U.S. State Department was there to make sure the right people got onboard the buses and we sat on them for four or fivehours and were told not to leave. But, finally those who had to go to the bathroom just started getting off  buses anyway. We left the port in Japan, by bus, at 2 PM with police escorts and people looking on from the sidelines taking pictures of us. After we arrived at the airport, it took about an hour and a half for me to get my passport back. Peggy had gotten hers earlier and saved a seat on the plane for me. There were glorified port-a-potties onboard with lines of 10 people waiting to use each one. Two were working and two were out of order. After about five hours into our flight the odor in the plane was bad.  After about 10 hours of flying time we landed and a CDC person boarded and told us that the paperwork filled out in Japan was wrong, and we had to fill out new forms. When we had boarded the plane, we didn’t know where we were going, butwe landed at Travis AFB and were greeted by a line of health care workers with flash lights forming a pathway to the group of buildings with fencing where we were to stay. Two federal marshalls stood guard at the fence. Everyone with a flashlight welcomed us home, and it was very moving. But, it was still the first time in my life that I was not able to go where I wanted, when I wanted.”Koelling said that the on-base apartments were very nice, with two bedrooms and a bath. The group of buildings were called the Air Force Inn. Their laundry was picked up in the morning and delivered back the same day. They had three meals a day, and their temperatures were taken at 7 AM and 5 PM each day. After temperature taking, they were free to walk within the fenced-in area, or watch TV inside. During the quarantine, the Koellings were asked if they wanted to betested for coronavirus and they said yes. It took swabs in the throat and nose to find that they tested negative for the virus. Sometime during the quarantine, Norman Koelling celebrated his 75th birthday.After the 14-day quarantine at Travis AFB, the former cruise ship passengers were given a choice of a bus ride to Oakland, Sacramento, or San Francisco airports, or to a car rental locationwhere they could get transportation home. Koelling and his wife flew out of Sacramento and arrived back in Edwards on March 3. The couple both have letters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declaring them to have negative results from corona virus testing.