Atlanta Couple Tests Positive For Coronavirus Aboard Cruise Ship

Feb 11, 2020

UPDATED 3/9/2020: The Smiths have returned home to Atlanta.

A metro Atlanta couple has tested positive for the novel coronavirus making international headlines, and the Georgia Department of Public Health is monitoring about 200 residents here who recently traveled to China.

Renee and Clyde Smith were passengers — along with their two grandsons — aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been tied up at the quay in Yokohama south of Tokyo, Japan, for nearly a week. They have since been moved to a hospital in Japan.


Renee and Clyde Smith in Vietnam
Credit Family photo

Both Clyde and Renee Smith are 80 years old and despite having tested positive for the virus they have not experienced symptoms and are doing well, according to their son, David Smith, who lives in Macon. 

"They're very, very young and strong for their age and very active and very healthy," he said. "So, I think that the odds are with them right now and their their outlook is very positive. Their spirits are high and they're more concerned about everybody else right now than themselves any longer." 

The two live near Decatur. They have been married over 50 years after meeting as students at Emory University.

Renee (left) and Clyde Smith with the cruise ship captain as they renewed their wedding vows aboard the Diamond Princess.
Credit Family photo

The couple renewed their wedding vows on the cruise, their son said.

David Smith said they were relieved to go to the same hospital after being taken off the ship.

“They ended up getting in the same hospital and then getting them in rooms next door to each other, which was wonderful," Smith said.  "My mom says the nurse was so nice they actually moved my father’s bed into my mom’s room.”

The two planned to leave for another trip to Portugal later this month, but at this point they have no idea how long they will be in Japan.

The Smiths are two of 11 United States residents to test positive for the novel coronoavirus, according to the Japan Ministry of Health. A total of 135 people from the ship have been confirmed to have the respiratory virus.

DPH said Tueday the travelers being monitored in Georgia arrived in the U.S. from mainland China outside Hubei Province with no known high-risk exposure.

"These individuals are asymptomatic (no symptoms) and are self-isolating at home," DPH said in its release.

The virus causing the newly named COVID-19 disease has not yet been named by the World Health Organization.

MORE: New Coronavirus Disease Officially Named COVID-19 By The World Health Organization

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"COVI" comes from coronavirus. The "D" stands for disease. The 19 represents 2019, the year the virus was first identified, in December.

Since reports of this new flu-like illness began, 1,000 people died and more than 40,000 have become ill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the 13th U.S. case Monday in California in a person who had traveled to Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. No cases have been confirmed in Georgia.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: State Health Officials Asked To Screen For Coronavirus In Georgia

Coronaviruses are common in many different species of animals, including camels and bats. Rarely, these coronaviruses can evolve and infect humans and then spread between humans. Recent examples of this include SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

Emory University assistant professor Dr. Marybeth Sexton and TIME reporter Jasmine Aguilera joined GPB's On Second Thought to discuss the virus and how misinformation spreads in the social media age.

Often, filters come down when a public health issues arises and that can lead to rumors and racism, Aguilera said.

"We've seen, for example, people spreading information that if you rinse your mouth out with saline, that you can prevent the virus spread, which is inaccurate," Aguilera said. "We've seen some people share that there is actually a vaccine out there for Coronavirus, which is not true as well."

MORE: In Georgia, The Virus To Watch Is Influenza, Not Coronavirus

DPH receives a list every day from Customs and Border Protection with the names of Georgia travelers coming from China. DPH epidemiologists contact the individuals by phone to establish a plan for self-monitoring and provide instructions on how to contact DPH before seeking health care if they develop fever, cough or shortness of breath.

There are no Georgia travelers who have returned from Wuhan or Hubei Province requiring quarantine.

The CDC says the overall risk of coronavirus to the general public is low, but the best ways to prevent infection of any respiratory virus are:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cough or sneeze into your elbow or use a tissue to cover it, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Health officials warn residents that influenza is still widespread and active in Georgia, and the best prevention against the flu is vaccination.

This story has been updated.