It was bad enough when they were quarantined together in their cabin on the cruise ship Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan. But when a test result for Mrs. Hopland came back positive for coronavirus, they were separated and she was taken to a hospital in Tokyo while her husband remained aboard the ship, harbored at Yokohama. Thankfully, they had both their cellphones reconfigured so that they can receive international calls and can talk to each other.
Adding to their misery, all of the Hoplands’ luggage was returned to the United States. “I just have the clothes I had on my back,” Hopland said. They were told they were being evacuated back to the United States and were standing in line with their luggage already checked when they were stopped and told Mrs. Hopland had tested positive for coronavirus.
Hopland said his wife is suffering no illness. “She has a few sniffles, but who doesn’t this time of year.?” He said she is with a group of others from the ship.
He is still hopeful the Americans being held in the quarantine may soon be permitted to board a dedicated plane back to the United States.
Hopland founded Medical Care, a walk-in clinic with branches in Johnson City, Elizabethton and Hampton.
Hopland said he became aware early on that the Japanese quarantine plan was not going to work and could even help spread the disease around the world.
“Their plan was to keep us all on the ship. That ship wasn’t really quarantined and the coronavirus was just running through it. We were to stay on the ship until we were all sent home on commercial airliners. Well, we had passengers on board the ship from all over the world.”
Hopland saw how quickly the virus spread aboard the ship and knew it would be just as contagious on airliners, taking planeloads of passengers to many parts of the world. He said it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Hopland said the coronavirus is highly contagious, but has very low virulence. Hopland said that means there is a lot of potential for people to catch the disease, but on a case-by-case basis, those patients who are otherwise in good health should survive. But even a low percentage of deaths will still add up to a huge number when multiplied by a population of 8 billion.
Hopland has long had a keen interest in the spread of epidemics and said he has always feared the day when a virus makes its appearance that is both highly infectious and highly virulent. That interest has also led him to promote flu shots to prevent the spread of a flu epidemic, using inflatable elephants to remind people to get a flu shot.
Hopland said the American response to the Diamond Princess incident was inadequate. When he called the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, he only got to menu prompts and never got anyone to pick up. He said none of his calls were returned. When he tried email, he said all he received was “boilerplate.”
Hopland said he found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be unresponsive, allowing Japan to handle the whole problem.
In contrast, he said the Department of Health and Human Services was very active and helpful, as was Congressman Phil Roe.
As a passenger on the ship, Hopland had an uncomfortably close perspective of the impact of coronavirus on the 3,600 passengers. He said a man got on the ship in China on Jan. 21. He got off in Hong Kong on Jan. 31 and soon was hospitalized.
The Japanese Health Department became involved on Feb. 4. Hopland said even though the ship was quarantined, the number of cases continued to rise, going from 30 to 60 to 76. The number of positive cases is now more than 200. One of the cases was a ship steward who served the Hopland cabin. He said several people in the corridor of that section of the ship have come down with coronavirus.
Despite the crisis, Hopland said the ship, the crew, and the Princess Cruise Line have done a great job under such difficult circumstances. He said that it took some time to get into the flow of serving room service meals, but now the food is served hot and tasty. He said one man who was writing a critique on the services said the food has been so good they may have to drag him off when it ends.
Hopland said he also was able to enjoy the quarantine as long as his wife was by his side. “How can you not enjoy spending time together with someone who loves you?” Hopland said. “I remember hearing about the newlyweds who go on a honeymoon and never leave their hotel room.”