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Coronavirus: Citrus County couple on Diamond Princess cruise evacuated

The couple is being quarantined in San Antonio, Texas, for Coronavirus risk. They have not tested positive.

The flight back to the United States was nothing like Philip Courter had seen before. They put him and hundreds of Americans in a cargo plane, a plastic tarp dividing the healthy and the ill.

But Courter’s life had been unexpected and strange for days already. He and his wife, Gay Courter, were quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan for Coronavirus risk.

The Citrus County couple landed in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday morning after 14 days of being quarantined aboard the cruise ship. Though they have not tested positive for the virus, they are being quarantined at the Lackland Air Force Base for another 14 days, he said.

Philip Courter, 77, is a documentary filmmaker and his wife Gay Courter, 75, is a novelist.

On Monday morning, Philip Courter said he was exhausted. He said the process of leaving Japan and getting on the plane was long and strenuous, but that the crew was a huge help. Passengers had their temperatures checked during the flight to make sure nobody was in the “danger zone,” he said.

Passengers during the evacuated flight back to the United States get their temperatures checked. The flight had passengers from the Diamond Princess, both sick and not sick [ Courtesy Philip Courter ]

The plane had no overhead bins and seats strapped to the floor, he said. Everyone wore masks and used sanitizer, even trying to keep their faces away from each other.

“Everybody worked very, very hard to take care of each other and to take care of themselves,” he said.

In a written statement, Gay Courter said she was happy to be back. The couple had gone on the trip to celebrate her 75th birthday.

“Although we wish we could be home with our friends and family, we understand that we may have been infected,” she wrote. "The burden of proof is on health officials to show that we can be safely released.”

Nearly 400 people from the United States were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 44 have been diagnosed with the virus, according to NPR.

The number of passengers aboard the cruise ship diagnosed with the virus kept climbing upward, which made Courter believe the quarantine wasn’t working as intended. As of Monday, 454 passengers on the ship had been diagnosed with the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.

People are processed after landing in the United States after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess [ Courtesy Philip Courter ]

For most Americans, there is no reason to panic about Coronavirus. Sean Beckmann, an assistant professor of biology at Stetson University, said people should be more worried about the common flu.

“The Coronavirus comes from the same group of viruses as the common cold,” he said. “So cover your mouth and nose when you cough. Wash all surfaces you touch. The practices are all the same.”

Courter said he wasn’t upset about his vacation getting ruined because it was nobody’s fault.

Instead, he felt inspired seeing all the people who reached out to help. When they landed on American soil, government and non-government employees and volunteers — who he said had as sleepless a night as he did — applauded all the passengers as they exited.

“When you see that many Americans taking care of each other it’s impressive,” Courter said.

Passengers on the U.S. charter plane land in America at a Texas Air Force base [ Courtesy Philip Courter ]