As It Happens

Diamond Cruise passenger starts 2nd quarantine in California after tense trip

After nearly two weeks quarantined on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, a six hour bus ride and a tense overseas flight, Spencer Fehrenbacher is finally back on U.S. soil. 

Spencer Fehrenbacher worried after learning 14 people who tested positive for the virus were on flight back

Spencer Fehrenbacher aboard the U.S. military plane which brought him from Tokyo to California, where he will remain quarantined for 14 days. (Submitted by Spencer Fehrenbacher)
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After nearly two weeks quarantined on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, a six hour bus ride and a tense overseas flight, Spencer Fehrenbacher is finally back on U.S. soil. 

"It's been an emotional and somewhat rocky experience," Fehrenbacher told As It Happens host Carol Off from the Travis Air Force Base in California. 

Fehrenbacher was among the more than 300 Americans airlifted from Tokyo on Sunday night after being quarantined on the ship because of an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. 

At least 542 people aboard the cruise have tested positive for the virus.

But Fehrenbacher's journey is not over yet. Now the American citizen and Canadian permanent resident will spend 14 days quarantined at the military base near Sacramento. 

Fehrenbacher killing time aboard the DIamond Princess, before he was able to get on a plane to California. (Submitted by Spencer Fehrenbacher)

Fehrenbacher was born in Washington but his family now lives in Fort Langley, British Columbia. The 29-year-old has been attending graduate school in Tianjin, a Chinese city near Beijing. 

He was on board the Diamond Princess with three friends, who all tested negative for COVID-19. 

On Sunday, Fehrenbacher began his long trip to the United States with hundreds of other Americans — cutting short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship on Feb. 5. 

American officials said they arranged for the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the new virus. 

Canada has followed suit and Canadians and permanent residents who are healthy will be able to board a charter flight expected to leave Japan on Thursday. 

There are 256 Canadians onboard the Diamond Princess and Global Affairs says 43 Canadian have tested positive for the virus. 

'Don't think about it'

Fehrenbacher says he couldn't help worrying about getting sick on the trip back, especially after learning that 14 people who had tested positive were traveling with him. 

"If my cabinmate and I did something as much as clear our throats, you know, you're kind of looking at the other person out of the corner of your eye," he said. 

"Next thing you know you're in a bus with 30-40 some odd people for six hours and you hear people hacking up a lung.  And you're just thinking: 'OK. Don't think about it.'" 

Fehrenbacher said he didn't learn that people who tested positive would be allowed on the flight until he noticed a tented-off area of the plane. 

The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms. They were kept in a quarantined area. 

Fehrenbacher said that he didn't remove his mask the entire trip, out of fear of catching the novel coronavirus. (Submitted by Spencer Fehrenbacher)

Fehrenbacher said he kept his mask on throughout the 11-hour plane ride but he saw others removing theirs to eat and drink 

"I was a little shocked ... knowing kind of what we had all collectively been through for the last two weeks, how cavalier a lot of these other people on the plane were about taking their mask off," he said. 

Fehrenbacher said he doesn't regret taking the risk of traveling, but that his experience on the Diamond Princess, and the amount of information he was given about the risk, has left him with a bad taste. 

He said he was a "champion" for enforcing the quarantine at the beginning, and was hopeful that it would help stop the spread of the virus. 

"I believed it would work and that eventually you would see these … daily new cases, these numbers, start to dwindle," he said. 

A shot from the six hour bus ride to the Tokyo airport. (Submitted by Spencer Fehrenbacher)

And it seemed like that was the case. By day 10, Fehrenbacher said there were no more daily announcements from the captain with the number of new cases. He thought the worst was over. 

Then he read a news article that reported 67 new cases that day.

"Once I realized that Princess was withholding that information it made me much more concerned," he said. 

'Very thankful'

Fehrenbacher says he is "very thankful" to be spending the next 14 days in quarantine in the U.S., even if he won't be allowed out of his room for the first 48 hours.

After that, he hopes to get outside for some fresh air and to stretch his legs. He also wants to finish some reading that feels a little too close to reality. 

"I'm on book two of three book science fiction trilogy — which these last few weeks have felt nothing less than science fiction," he said. 


Written by Sarah Jackson with files from the Associated Press. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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