All passenger testing has now come back negative after an 83-year-old American woman who had been on board was said to have tested positive for coronavirus in Malaysia.
The World Heath Organization says that multiple tests in Malaysia, where the woman flew after disembarking the ship in Cambodia and was isolated after temperature testing, proved she was positive for coronavirus. The ship had been turned away from multiple other ports, despite the cruise line's assertion of no known coronavirus cases among the ship's passengers and crew.
"The information WHO had on 17 February was that the case has been confirmed positive following multiple testing in the same Malaysia laboratory, and using similar protocols as that used for the previously 22 reported cases from Malaysia," Christian Lindmeier, WHO spokesperson, said in an email to USA TODAY. "A negative test of the 83-old woman 6 days after the initial test seems to be point to the fact that the virus was cleared during this time.”
"At this time, CDC considers passengers from the Westerdam to be at 'no risk' or 'low risk' of coronavirus infection," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement Sunday.
The CDC retracted an earlier statement to USA TODAY stating that the woman in question never had coronavirus. On Monday the CDC said they "have no visibility on whether the initial test of the woman was anything other than positive."
Given this level of risk, the CDC said Sunday, testing of Westerdam passengers for coronavirus is not recommended unless additional exposures are identified to warrant testing.
Earlier Friday, USA TODAY learned the American passenger was still in a hospital with symptoms. Holland America's "Care Team" remained on the ground to provide support to the woman and her husband, cruise line spokesperson Sally Andrews told USA TODAY in an email.
"We are happy to hear that she is recovered and hope that she and her husband will be able to make their way home soon," Andrews said.
In a statement Saturday, the Malaysian Ministry of Health said the patient was showing improvement though she was still being monitored for a slight cough. The ministry maintained that she originally tested positive for coronavirus after being diagnosed with pneumonia and put into an isolation ward.
"Oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal clinical samples were taken for investigations. Both samples were tested twice at the Institute for Medical Research and found to be positive for COVID-19 infection" on Feb. 15 for both repeated tests, the statement said.
She was treated with antiviral medication, showing improvement after a 72-hour period before testing negative for the virus multiple times, the ministry said.
The news that the woman has been cleared came one day after the Cambodian Ministry of Health confirmed that the 747 crew members still on board the Westerdam tested negative for coronavirus; 781 passengers who were still in the country were cleared, too.
Throughout the cruise, Holland America maintained that no one on board had symptoms or tested positive for coronavirus, though the MS Westerdam was turned away from the Philippines, Japan, Guam and Thailand.
The Westerdam departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 and was scheduled to disembark in Shanghai before coronavirus gripped mainland China and forced itinerary changes.
According to the South China Morning Post, Cambodia is questioning the authenticity of Malaysia's initial positive test.
Cambodia's health ministry, as reported by the Chinese newspaper, said in a statement that “the irregularity of the testing results by Malaysian authorities made all passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship scared and confused" and massively delayed those trying to get home.
Elly Chybowski, who was traveling aboard the Westerdam with her husband, Timothy, was routed on flights from Cambodia through Tokyo and Dallas/Fort Worth on their way home to Madison, Wisconsin. Then "roughly two hours before our connecting flight from (Tokyo) to Dallas, we discovered that our tickets had been cancelled for unknown reasons," she told USA TODAY by email.
Panicked and unable to get answers, the couple rebooked flights on their own dime, an out-of-pocket expense that totaled $5,130. They arrived home Wednesday.
Once home, the couple were contacted by their local public health department, Chybowski wrote Friday, noting that they had shared a dining room table with the woman who was said to have tested positive on the ship.
Considered a "medium-risk exposure," the Wisconsin couple have self-quarantined until the end of the monitoring period on Feb. 27, to mitigate the possibility of infecting others. Chybowski's physician husband has not been able to return to his practice, and their adult children drop off food in their garage.
"The disruption to the lives of so many is tremendous," stressed Chybowski. "The emotional stress to all of us during the time of uncertainty before we got home is immeasurable."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coronavirus: Westerdam passenger now negative for coronavirus