When they left Massachusetts early last month for an Asian cruise, Jacqueline Kineavy-Bowes and her husband never expected what would happen during the trip: an outbreak of coronavirus that forced the quarantine of thousands on board their ship while docked at a Japanese port.
Now, after spending nearly all of the past two weeks stuck inside their cabin, Kineavy-Bowes, 51, and her 65-year-old husband, Richard Bowes were returning to the US Sunday, where they face the prospect of another 14 days in quarantine at a California military base far from loved ones.
“We went from so high and positive, to, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Kineavy-Bowes said in a phone interview Saturday night. “We’ll have to rally; there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The Westford couple were among the 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship when it was delayed by Japanese health officials during a stop at Yokohama on Feb. 4. The ship was then ordered quarantined.
In the days since, forty-four Americans who were on the cruise ship were found to have been infected, said Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, according to the Washington Post. In all, health officials have identified a total number of 355 cases of coronavirus on board the ship as of Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
Those who were not symptomatic were being allowed off the ship, and flown to military bases in California and Texas, according to a letter Sunday from the US Embassy in Japan that was sent to American passengers and crew.
About 300 Americans — including the Westford couple — were leaving for the United States Sunday, according to the AP, citing the Japanese defense ministry. The two planes had left Haneda Airport in Tokyo for the United States, the embassy said in a statement posted to its website.
Americans who are transported to those bases will be quarantined before they are allowed to return home. Those who don’t take the flights won’t be able to return to the United States any earlier than March 4, the embassy said.
“The US Government is taking these measures to fully assess and care for these repatriated Americans to protect them, their loved ones, and their communities,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
The CDC said it believes the risk of exposure to the general public in the United States is low.
In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health has not been notified of any residents returning as part of this group of travelers, a spokeswoman said Sunday afternoon.
Kineavy-Bowes spoke by telephone Saturday night to the Globe from the cabin she shared with her husband; at one point, the interview was interrupted when a Japanese doctor arrived to check on them.
Kineavy-Bowes said she was frustrated with what she said is a lack of communication from American health officials ahead of their flight back to the United States.
She said they didn’t answer questions about whether her medication would be available when she arrived in the United States, or make it clear ahead of time to which base they would be sent.
The couple were told they would be going to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., shortly before they left Tokyo’s Haneda Airport Sunday.
“I want to go home,” she said. “Of course, we will do the 14 days to keep everyone else safe, but let us know what is going on…. Just tell us.”
The couple originally flew from Massachusetts to Singapore on Jan. 4, stopping there for a layover until they boarded the Diamond Princess Jan. 6 for a two-week cruise that included stops in Vietnam and Hong Kong.
They’ve been together for 14 years, and married about a year-and-a-half ago, she said. Both are retired Keolis train conductors — she worked for the company for 26 years, and her husband for 43.
They took a cruise in the same area following their wedding last year, and decided to take a return trip this year for “celebrating life,” she said.
The first part of this year’s cruise ended in Yokohama on Jan. 20, and they were aboard when it set out for a second leg of the cruise that was scheduled to return Feb. 4.
It was during that trip, Princess Cruise Lines said in a statement, that a guest from Hong Kong traveled on the ship Jan. 20 to Jan. 25. Six days later, that passenger visited a Hong Kong hospital where he tested positive for coronavirus.
While on the ship, he didn’t visit the ship’s medical center to report any symptoms or illness, the statement said. When the ship arrived for a stop at Yokohama on Feb. 4, Japanese health officials held it to check for coronavirus infections.
Once the two-week quarantine was declared, the couple spent virtually every moment from Feb. 4 to Feb. 16 in their cabin, Kineavy-Bowes said.
That’s nearly two weeks in a roughly 220-square-foot space with a queen-size bed, a chair, desk, a closet, and bathroom.
They were able to get outside by standing on a small balcony; the couple also had one 45-minute walk on deck during the first weekend of the quarantine. Whenever they were in open air, they wore masks to protect against infection and steered clear of other passengers, she said.
Kineavy-Bowes praised the work of the ship’s crew — who were themselves under quarantine, and separated from their families — for working to make conditions better for passengers and keeping them well fed, she said.
“They’re so good to us, really, the ship. It’s just such a terrible thing that happened,” Kineavy-Bowes said. “I really commend them, they’re taking care of us well.”
They passed the time as they could — shipboard TVs were loaded with movies and shows, though the couple tried to leave it off. Instead, they turned to cards.
“We’ve made a rummy 5,000 game, instead of 500. We’re halfway there. He’s winning,” she said. “But now I have 14 more days to catch up.”
What kept their spirits up were regular contacts with family back home — e-mails, phone calls, and Facebook posts, she said.
“It’s huge, we both come from big families … it makes all the difference,” she said.
But even with the electronic contacts, all that time so far apart from loved ones is beginning to wear on them.
“A couple of my nieces and nephews just had babies, and they’ve been sending me pictures of them every day,” Kineavy-Bowes said. “I just can’t wait to get home to see them.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.