For Carl and Jeri Goldman, it was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a 16-day luxury cruise through Southeast Asia to celebrate Jeri's 60th birthday.
The couple, who own a radio station in Santa Clarita, Calif., had booked the trip aboard the Diamond Princess with close friends Mark and Jerri Jorgensen in an adjoining cabin,
and they spent the first 15 days taking in the sights in Hong Kong and Vietnam.
"It was magical," says Carl, who is 67. "Jeri said she didn't want it to end."
But when a passenger aboard the Diamond Princess tested positive for the highly infectious COVID-19 virus on Feb. 1, the couple's dream vacation turned into a nightmare.
First quarantined on the ship for 12 days, they watched dozens of their fellow passengers fell victim to the disease ("No one realized our ship was a floating petridish, says Carl).
Then just hours into their evacuation flight back to the U.S., Carl came down with a fever and tested positive for the virus.
He spent the weeks since quarantined in a biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha,
as nurses and doctors in hazmat suits monitor his vital signs and rub swabs over anything he may have touched, trying to detect how the virus was being spread.
"It feels like I’ve been living in a science-fiction movie," says Goldman.
"It’s been a life-changing experience. I don’t think I’ll ever take anything for granted ever again."
Since the COVID-19 coronavirus first surfaced in late December, it has spread at an alarming rate from one nation to the next,
so far infecting more than 90,000 and claiming more than 3,000 lives, including six Americans in Washington State.
In recent days health officials have begun sounding an ominous alarm, saying it's just a matter of time before those statistics skyrocket worldwide.
“We are asking the American public to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad," Dr. Nancy Messonnier,
director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Feb. 25 press conference.
"The disruption to everyday life may be severe."