Local man back home after coronavisus SNAFU
February 26, 2020
Online community proves less than welcoming
DEERHORN: Frank King is probably the most famous among 200 people recently on a cruise ship. Not because he was working as an on-board comedian, but because he joined them in leaving Cambodia after their vessel finally found a place to dock. Regarding his decision, King says he’s, “Awfully sorry I scared anybody or caused any trouble.”
The M.S. Westerdam deviated from a normal voyage after it left Hong Kong in early February. While the Holland America ship was underway officials in the Philippines, where it was scheduled to disembark, decided to bar any vessels arriving from China, Macao or Hong Kong because of coronavirus fears. So did other bureaucrats in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Guam, despite no reports of the disease among the vessel’s 2,300 passengers and crew.
“Then Cambodia said, ‘Okay, you can get off the boat and we’ll check your temperatures,’” King recalls.
When everyone passed those tests, the cruise line chartered Airbuses and started to fly passengers and crewmembers back to their homes. Until an 83-year-old woman spiked a fever while making a plane connection in Malaysia.
“That froze everyone in the evacuation process in place,” King says. Some were still on the ship, while others like him were on shore in a hotel.
Neither the ship nor the hotel was under quarantine, although the testing continued. “All they were trying to do was discourage people from leaving because they wanted to keep track of everybody,” King said. “You could go out and be a tourist but if you tried to roll out of there with your luggage security personnel would do their best to discourage you. They couldn’t stop you because there was no legal reason you couldn’t leave.”
On the morning of February 16th, one third of the hotel group booked their own flights. King was among them.
“I flew out at 11:05 p.m. on purpose because I wanted to be there to be tested,” he says. Both a local health official and someone from the U.S. Centers for Control and Prevention (CDC) office were on site.
After they confirmed his temperature was normal, King asked if he could leave the country. They responded that since he didn’t have a temperature, hadn’t been in China and had been on the boat for more than 14 days, there was no reason he had to stay.
“So I thought, Hell, I’m playing it by the book. If they said, ‘You have to stay,’ I would have stayed.”
On the way back to the States King was checked again in Phnom Penh and Bangkok. “When I got to Seattle they said, “Frank, we’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” ‘They’ were more personnel from the CDC who tested him once again. After that exam he was told, “You’re clear, you can go.”
Someone had tipped off the KING5 TV station as he stepped off his plane and King said he made a mistake by talking to reporters. “I should have said ‘No comment,’ although I imagine they would have still run a story with “Comedian from cruise ship enters country.”
His guess proved true. Despite being cleared to travel and contacting his doctor from the airport to set up tests when he arrived in Eugene, many people felt King posed a threat to public health. They’ve made that clear on social media, even after the CDC determined no one on the ship, including the 83-year-old woman, had the virus.
“I always thought virtual bullying couldn’t be that bad,” King says. “I’ve got a whole new perspective now and I don’t know any of these people who have harassed me.”
One Facebook user suggested organizing a picket protest outside his home. Another said King had, “Come back to Lane County to kill people.” Before closing out his NextDoor account King says someone wrote his wife they’d cook food and leave it on the porch if she would agree “to keep him from leaving the house.”
Knowing what he does now would have influenced the way he acted King says. “I’m a suicide prevention speaker,” he notes. “My job is saving people’s lives. I suppose to avoid any controversy I would have just stayed in Cambodia until everybody got cleared up. But I didn’t break the law.”