An Oregon comedian has lost his job as a cruise-ship performer and has gained hundreds of new critics after he left the Cambodian city where his ship had docked as an emergency port during the coronavirus outbreak and caught a flight back to Seattle — a move many say unnecessarily put people at risk.

Frank King, the comedian, was on the Holland America Westerdam, the cruise ship that docked in Cambodia after being denied a port elsewhere during the outbreak. Most of the ship’s passengers were put up in hotels in the nation’s capital, Phnom Penh, while others were still on the ship. King, meanwhile, caught a flight back to Seattle, then went home to Eugene.

The weekend before King landed in Seattle, news broke that an 83-year-old American woman who was on the ship and then flew from Cambodia to Malaysia was found to be carrying the virus.

Now, some in the Pacific Northwest are angry at King, saying he endangered others by breaking quarantine and coming back to the U.S. The comedian, who also speaks about suicide prevention, said he has gotten lots of phone calls, texts and online comments from people worrying that he’ll infect others.

In a Facebook Live interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive, King said he did not know there was a health risk when he left because the Westerdam was not quarantined at all.

“The entire 14 days, not a soul on the ship had the virus, and they tested our temperatures four times before they would let us ashore in Cambodia,” King said. “The woman didn’t strike a fever until she’d gone to Phnom Penh and landed in Malaysia,” he said.

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After they docked in Cambodia, he said, those who were staying in a hotel were told they could go sightseeing but that if security saw people checking out, they would try to discourage them.

“I dragged my bags outside, and the security people said, ‘We’d rather you didn’t leave,’” King said.

But he maintains that there was no quarantine and that no one officially stopped him from leaving. When he reached Seattle, he said, he was examined and briefly questioned, but no one stopped him from continuing on his travels or told him to self-quarantine.

King said he believes some of the panic about his return to the U.S. stems from people confusing the ship he was on with another ship, the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined in Japan. There, he said, people were confined to their rooms and many, including a Forest Grove woman, were sent to the hospital when they docked at Yokohama.

On the Westerdam, he said, activities were going on as usual.

“If you didn’t know we were being turned away at port after port, you wouldn’t have known [anything was amiss],” he said.

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King said when he got off the ship, he was tested by workers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who were in Phnom Penh.

He said a CDC worker told him that there was no reason for him not to leave.

“He said it’s been 14 days, you have no fever, no symptoms. There’s no reason you shouldn’t get on a plane,” King said.

Representatives from the CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

King said he got fired after KOMO News in Seattle did a story about him. He said he believes that his company didn’t want the bad publicity that he got surrounding his departure.

“I think they didn’t understand why I left,” he said.

King said Lane County Public Health officials were in touch with him as soon as he returned to Eugene. He said they told him he didn’t need to come in, but they asked him to keep in touch in case he started showing symptoms.

He said if he had started showing symptoms, or if the CDC had told him otherwise, he likely wouldn’t have left when he did.

“I probably would have had second thoughts,” he said.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

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Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; jramakrishnan@oregonian.com; @JRamakrishnanOR

Shane Dixon Kavanaugh; 503-294-7632; skavanaugh@oregonian.com; @shanedkavanaugh

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