Tests, doctors in hazmat suits, lots of Gatorade: A report from inside a coronavirus quarantine

Carl Goldman has been in isolation for a dozen days and doesn't yet know when he'll be allowed to go home.

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By Tony Lee and Corky Siemaszko

For a dozen days, Carl Goldman's world was reduced to a 20- by 30-foot containment room, and his only visitors came bearing coronavirus testing kits and bottles of Gatorade while dressed head to toe in hazmat suits.

Goldman contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and while he's now in lower-level housing at the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit in Omaha, he remains quarantined.

And he has no idea when he'll be allowed to go home to Santa Clarita, California.

"I have to be tested three days in a row of being negative in order to be released," Goldman told NBC News' "Stay Tuned" in a FaceTime interview. "The test is pretty elaborate. They stick a swab deep into each nostril and also deep down the throat. Five seconds each. Not a fun process."

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Goldman said he has also volunteered to take part in a coronavirus-related clinical study that is even more invasive.

"Yippie-aye-oh," he said with a mordant chuckle. "That's, uh, just taking one for the team here."

Goldman, who is 67 and owns a radio station, was on the cruise with his wife, Jeri, who was allowed to return home Monday after a brief quarantine at the Omaha facility.

"My wife never got the virus," he said. "That's what's so weird about this virus. I don't know how she didn't get it and how I ended up getting it."

When the Diamond Princess set sail Jan. 20 from Yokohama, Japan, Goldman never thought that their dream trip through Asia would end in Nebraska.

"It was a magical 16 days," Goldman wrote on his blog. "I gave my wife, Jeri, a surprise birthday and Christmas present, a cruise through Southeast Asia. When we flew to Tokyo on Jan. 17, we had received no news on the coronavirus. The first stories of an outbreak began hitting after we sailed away from the Port of Yokohama, Japan."

They learned on the journey back to Yokohama that one of the passengers who had gotten off the ship in Hong Kong had come down with the virus.

"The Diamond Princess became a floating petri dish," Goldman said. "But no one knew it at the time."

The Diamond Princess was quarantined on Feb. 3, and the Goldmans were trapped for two weeks in their cabin, where they watched the drama unfolding on the Yokohama docks below their balcony.

"As more and more people got infected, it was like a scene out of 'The Andromeda Strain,'" Goldman said, referring to the 1971 science fiction thriller about an alien infestation that threatens the world.

"We were docked in an isolated port in Yokohama, looking out our balcony," he said. "Ambulances were coming in about every two minutes with their sirens on."

Workers in hazmat suits prowled the ship while helicopters hovered overhead. And every day, more and more of the 3,700 passengers and crew were taken off the ship and to the hospital.

"They were pulling them off the ship one at a time, loading them into an ambulance," he said.

By the time he left the ship, Goldman said, about 300 infected people had been removed.

What Goldman didn't realize, though, was that he, too, had caught the virus. It wasn't until he was flying back to the U.S. on a military cargo plane, with three members of a medical team who were all wearing hazmat suits, that his first symptoms surfaced.

"I got up after waking up with a high fever," he said. "Doctor confirmed that, yes, I had a fever over 103. He put me in a quarantine area on the plane."

Eight other passengers were already there, he said.

"I buckled myself up, fell asleep, and that was it," he said. "I didn't wake up till we landed at Travis Air Force Base" in central California.

Goldman said that until he came down with the fever, he had no inkling he was infected.

"What's weird about these symptoms, and seems to hold true for almost everybody, is I went days without knowing I have the virus," he said. "Then, all of a sudden, just clicking my fingers, I jump from normal temperature to 103."

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Goldman said he had "a small, dry cough" but no congestion, body aches or chills.

"We landed at Travis, more hazmats came aboard," Goldman said.

Everybody on board was evaluated again, and Goldman and two other people were placed on another plane to Omaha.

"They unloaded us, put me on a stretcher," he said. "I had a motorcade that was larger than I think the president's or the queen of England."

The center where Goldman was quarantined previously played host to U.S. citizens who were evacuated from Africa with the Ebola virus.

While Goldman waits to go home, he's been biding his time by blogging about his unwanted adventure, riding an exercise bicycle and downing copious amounts of ginger tea and Gatorade.

"I've been through every color of the rainbow with Gatorade," he said. "The light blue is the bomb."

CORRECTION (March 5, 2020, 5:40 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the patient's last name. He is Carl Goldman, not Goodman.