SALT LAKE CITY — The first Utahn to have a confirmed case of coronavirus is being released from a Japanese hospital after two consecutive negative tests.
Tooele resident John Haering is one of three Utahns who has tested positive for the virus, all sailed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which quarantined passengers on Feb. 5 after a passenger who left the ship was confirmed to have the virus in a Hong Kong hospital.
Haering, who has also been battling pneumonia, was taken off the ship nearly two weeks ago after running a fever for several days and was taken to the hospital in Chiba, Japan, where he was confirmed to have the COVID-19 virus. His wife, Melanie, remained on the cruise ship docked in Yokohama until U.S. government officials sent a plane to bring U.S. citizens to Air Force bases in Nebraska, Texas and California.
“Well, babe, the happy day is here,” Haering said in an emotional video shared with KSL that he sent to his wife, who is quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in California. “I’m free to go. They gave me my release. I am going to be coming back to the USA. So thrilled and so happy and can’t wait to put my arms around you.”
The couple exchanged good news videos, with Melanie Haering sending her husband a video letting him know that she too tested negative for the virus. Melanie Haering is the only one of the four Utahns on the Diamond Princess who has never tested positive for the virus.
She told KSL in a text that she “got chills” when she opened the envelope and saw her results. Her 14-day quarantine ends on Monday, and she believes she will be allowed to go home after that. John Haering now will now work with officials from the U.S. Embassy in Japan and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get clearance to return to the U.S.
John Haering has been fighting pneumonia for more than a week, but he told his wife in the video that the doctors have said he’s improving.
“He doesn’t see any problem with my pneumonia,” he said through a medical mask. “It will just go away. So, wahoo! I’m coming home.”
The other Utah couple, Mark and Jerri Jorgensen, received some bad news during that same time frame. Jerri Jorgensen, who tested positive the day after John Haering was removed from the ship, got another positive test on Tuesday. That same day, her husband, Mark, who had tested negative on the ship, tested positive at Travis Air Force Base.
He was taken by ambulance escorted by U.S. Marshals to a nearby hospital in Fairfield, California.
“They came around and offered us swab tests,” he said of arriving at the Air Force base. “I did that thinking it was routine because I had not tested positive. They said, ‘We’re sorry to tell you this, but you’re positive.’ I was kind of blown away, actually.”
He said he was around both his wife and another passenger who tested positive.
“I’ve been around a lot of people who were sick,” he said, noting there were also sick passengers on the flight to California. “I’m here until I get two consecutive negative tests.”
He said a new CDC protocol requires he be tested everyday. With a four or five day turnaround, he won’t start getting results until the weekend. He has had two kidney transplants, the most recent five years ago, but said he doesn’t think that impacts his treatment or the tests.
“They’re finding the incubation period may be longer than they thought it was,” he said. “It may be between 20 and 30 days. I don’t want to think about 20 days in this room, but if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.”
He and his wife talk daily, and he said they’re determined to stay positive and not fret over future possibilities.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to accept what’s right in front of me,” said Jorgensen. “Just learning to accept it and roll with it.”