JUDY WOODRUFF: And now back to our top story: more questions today about the fate of Americans
aboard two cruise ships caught up in the global coronavirus crisis.
Amna Nawaz has the latest.
AMNA NAWAZ: This is not how Cheryl and Paul Molesky envisioned their cruise vacation.
CHERYL MOLESKY, QUARANTINED Passenger: We have been in this room on the Diamond Princess
for the last 27 days. For the last 12 days, we have not stepped foot out of this door
into the hallway.
AMNA NAWAZ: The Syracuse, New York, couple were part of the 300-plus Americans quarantined
on the ship in Yokohama, Japan. The vessel, with 3,700 passengers and crew, has been docked
in Japan for 12 days. More than 450 people have tested positive for the coronavirus,
making it the largest cluster of cases outside of China.
But late Sunday, U.S. officials evacuated 340 Americans who had been released from the
ship, including the Moleskys, and flew them back to the United States.
CHERYL MOLESKY: It's a little bit scary with the numbers going up of the people being taken
off the ship with the COVID-19 virus. So, you know, it's -- I think it's time to go.
I think it's time to cut our losses and take off.
AMNA NAWAZ: The two flights of evacuees landed early today at military bases in Northern
California and Texas. They now face another 14 days in quarantine.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said it is working closely with Japanese officials
to prevent a larger outbreak.
DR. SYLVIE BRIAND, World Health Organization: We need to make sure that we focus on our
objective, public health objective, which is to contain the virus, and not to contain
the people, and making sure that we can have the right balance between the health of the
population in Japan and other countries, but also the health of the people being currently
on this boat.
AMNA NAWAZ: Late last week, the Westerdam cruise ship was finally allowed to dock in
Cambodia, after five countries had turned it away. One passenger, an American, then
traveled to Malaysia, where she tested positive for the virus days later.
Hundreds of people released from the ship have already headed to their home countries,
and they're being warned to quarantine themselves.
In China, health experts say the outbreak may be stabilizing. Some workers returned
to their jobs in Beijing and Shanghai today, as the cities' two-week quarantines expired.
HU SHAOLIE, Shanghai (through translator): The elevator is being disinfected every two
hours, and you need take your body temperature and record it before entering that building,
and then take it another time before entering the office. So I don't think fear is necessary.
AMNA NAWAZ: The Chinese government said today that more than 10,000 patients who have been
hospitalized with the virus have recovered and been discharged.
GUO YANHONG, National Health Commission (through translator): All over the country, except
Wuhan, the number of newly diagnosed cases has been declining for 13 consecutive days.
These are really good signals illustrating that our prevention and control efforts have
worked very well.
AMNA NAWAZ: WHO scientists are now in China, working with officials there to research the
spread of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control said the decision to repatriate Americans from the ship in Japan
came after an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases on board.
So, how well does quarantine work? And what are the risks after those who've been isolated
return into the wider population?
For that and more, I am joined by Dr. William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases
at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine.
Dr. Schaffner, thanks for being with us. And welcome to the "NewsHour."
I want to ask you about how health officials are handling these cases. When you look at
that first cruise ship case, you have got hundreds of people they decide to evacuate,
fly back to the United States, even after some of them did positive for the virus.
Are they handling this the right way?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, Department of Preventive Medicine Chairman, Vanderbilt University:
Oh, I think our officials, Amna, are handling the circumstances very, very well.
They have well-prepared places where these folks in quarantine are going to go. They're
providing excellent clinical care for the people who have been shown to be diagnosed
with the virus.
And I think we're still very much in the containment phase here in the United States. Let's find
everybody, diagnose them quickly, and then public health can work on all the contacts.
So I think our officials have this one under control.
AMNA NAWAZ: OK, what about the rest of the world now?
We also just told the story about that second cruise ship. It was allowed to dock in Cambodia.
You have got hundreds of passengers who disembarked and have already made their way on to other
places, that one known case of a positive coronavirus test we know about.
What are your concerns when it comes to that?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Yes.
Well, there, Amna, I'm a little more concerned, because there's turmoil, and there was not
a consistent policy. People who have been exposed now have traveled to many parts of
the world. I hope they're being identified. And I hope local public health officials are
contacting them and keeping them under surveillance.
I'm not sure that's happening. And we have now the possibility of little individual outbreaks
starting in other countries, because, if those people are infected, they could start chains
of transmission in other countries. That wouldn't be a good thing.
AMNA NAWAZ: So, tell me a little bit about what we do know about standards of quarantine.
We have been hearing a lot from passengers here who have had to go through that 14-day
quarantine, some very emotional tales that they are telling, too, one woman saying, I
feel like I have lost a month of my life, after 14 days of quarantine in Japan and 14
days more back in the United States.
What is that quarantine like? And do you know if other countries are standardizing it in
any other way?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: I don't think there's any standardization.
But, certainly, I feel for and my hat is off to all the people who have been quarantined.
It must be very, very boring. The rest of your life is moving on, and you can but deal
with it through your iPhone, and it must be very, very difficult.
Also, you're in isolation, or semi-isolation, so there's not a whole lot of interaction
with other individuals. It's not a very pleasant experience. You're being imprisoned by a virus.
AMNA NAWAZ: I have to ask you, Dr. Schaffner.
There's a lot we don't yet know about the virus, but there's a number of theories that
are being circulated and shared. And I'd like to get your take on them for the sake of making
sure we're getting the right information out to our audience.
There's some skepticism, it's fair to say, around information coming from the Chinese
government, where the virus is believed to have been originated, in China.
And there was this moment from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who gave an interview just yesterday
on FOX News. And he was asked about the origins of the virus.
Take a listen to this.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): We don't know where it originated.
But we do know that we have to get to the bottom of that. We also know that just a few
miles away from that food market is China's only biosafety level four super laboratory
that researches human infectious diseases.
Now, we don't have evidence that this disease originated there, but, because of China's
duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Schaffner, what's your response to that?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, it's a question that needs to be addressed.
But I must say, there are no scientists or public health officials around the world who
think that this is a somehow escaped virus from a containment facility.
This is a virus, just as the SARS virus was and the MERS virus, the Middle East Respiratory
Syndrome viruses, these were coronavirus that came to humans from animals. That's what happened
with this case.
AMNA NAWAZ: To Senator Cotton's point, we have heard this before, though. There is skepticism
around the information coming from the Chinese government.
Do you trust the numbers as reliable coming from the government?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, the numbers of cases coming from China have changed over
time because their case definition has changed.
I think they're trying to do a good job, but it still is very confusing, and we have to
be skeptical. We don't know whether the outbreak in Wuhan and other parts of China is continuing
at the same rate, increasing, or, my goodness, it might be decreasing.
The numbers are not consistent enough for us to draw firm conclusions yet.
AMNA NAWAZ: Well, to that point, we just heard today that the Chinese government is saying
there was actually a dip in the number of cases.
If that is true, what would that tell you about the potential future spread of the virus?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, if that's true -- and I certainly hope it is -- it would
mean that this ginormous public health experiment that they have done, quarantining from 11
million to 50 millions of people, actually did have some impact in reducing the transmission
of the virus.
I have always hoped that. I hope that's correct, and we can begin then to plan the endgame.
When can we start turning things back to normal?
But it's too early to be confident that we can do that. We can hope for the best, but
we have to keep preparing for the worst.
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Schaffner, just a few seconds left.
I have to ask you. As recently as a week ago, scientists were saying there is still the
potential of a global pandemic. Based on what we know in the last week, do you believe that's
still the case?
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: The potential is there, Amna.
Whether we will get there or not, we don't know. I'm holding my breath and crossing my
AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, thank you very
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Thank you.