Diamond Princess cruise ship passenger reflects on COVID-19, one year later

Halle Meslow, Feature Editor

Shelly and Charles Conlon aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in early February 2020.

As the one-year anniversary of national lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly approaching, March 2021 marks a natural point of reflection for many across the globe. At a time when the United States had just contracted 1,000 cases, March 2020 undoubtedly initiated a series of frightening firsts that proved the threat of COVID-19 to be a reality. As this statistic climbed to almost 30 million cases in the U.S. and 365 million worldwide, it has become clear that regardless of how the virus has been experienced—firsthand or not—life has changed in this past year.  

While COVID-19 did not become a household name for most until March 2020, the virus was breaking news two months before with an outbreak upon a Diamond Princess cruise ship in late January. What seemed like a dream vacation to Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and China turned out to be a story of a government-mandated quarantine and 700 individuals testing positive for COVID-19. It was one of the first instances of the United States managing the coronavirus, and it set the tone for the next year of administrative pandemic responses. 

“I don’t feel the government did a good job managing it. I still don’t think they are,” Shelly Conlon, a passenger who was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, explained in an interview one year ago. 

Conlon shared with The Wolf her experience aboard the Diamond Princess cruise with her husband, Charles Conlon, detailing their story as they quarantined in three different locations for a total of 39 days, ultimately contracting COVID-19 themselves. Her story gave insight into the coronavirus, as the couple had a front-row seat to witness the severity of the virus, as well as how the United States administration was managing its response to the beginning of the pandemic.

In light of the anniversary of both the pandemic and the first interview with the Conlons, The Wolf sat down for a reconnection interview with Shelly Conlon, reflecting upon the effects of COVID-19 in the past year, the disappointment of its management and her own hope for the future. 

Like many, Conlon did not expect the severity pandemic to persist as long as it has, feeling as though the administrative disorganization from her experience at the beginning of the year could have been resolved in this past year. 

“I am somewhat surprised at the length of the pandemic. The management of the pandemic was frustrating from the beginning. Although vaccines are a game-changer, it is disappointing that the management of the virus in 2020 became a political issue rather than a bipartisan, united effort to overcome the impact on so many people.”

Continuing her support of safety mandates similar to one year ago, Conlon expressed that COVID-19 precautions have had the most impact on her life in the past year. 

“My life has changed similar to everyone dealing with the impact of COVID-19. I spend more time at home, practice social distancing and I wear a mask everywhere. My family has been fortunate with nobody experiencing any major illness due to the virus, so we have been blessed with minimal impact on our life. As a retiree, the most impactful aspect of my life since the cruise is that we haven’t been able to travel.”

Despite her quarantine experience aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Conlon detailed her hope to get the vaccine in order to travel internationally in the next year, as her own trip and cruise plans have been at a halt for the past year. 

“I have two cruises booked for 2022. I am hopeful wearing masks will be behind us. It will not be the same if we have to wear masks. Other than that, I am ready to go now,” Conlon said.

Conlon’s hopeful tone for the upcoming year is supported by the increasing distribution of vaccines and the gradually decreasing rate of COVID-19 cases throughout the U.S. While the anniversary of the pandemic offers an opportunity to condemn the past year, Conlon channels her constructive criticism towards her hope for a healthier future, as her insight on the pandemic from one year ago still rings true: 

“Hopefully we learn from it, and we don’t have this happen again.”