The mayor of Skagway in Alaska, Andrew Cremata, calls the first big cruise ship to dock in his community in almost two years the “light at the end of the tunnel.”
In addition, he is not too worried by a case of COVID-19 that was confirmed on board that ship, just days before.
“I don’t think it’s a great cause of concern. We definitely want to be aware of it,” Cremata stated.
According to Celebrity Cruises, a fully immunized passenger tested positive for COVID-19 on board the Celebrity Millennium and got “private air transportation” home from Juneau. On Sunday, the passenger reported cold-like symptoms to the ship’s medical officers and later tested positive, the cruise line revealed in a statement Tuesday.
The person was quarantined in the ship’s medical facility for observation. The company claims it did contact tracing and tested the individual’s close contacts, which turned out negative.
Cremata stated the incident indicates that Alaska was well prepared to welcome cruise ships again this year, even with the risk of the virus. He declared protocols were adhered to, and the danger to local communities was minimized.
“Those protocols are in place for that reason,” Cremata noted.
When the Celebrity Millennium arrived in Skagway on Tuesday morning with about half its maximum passenger load, Cremata was there to welcome it, along with other local officers. Last month, the area welcomed its first cruise ship since 2019; however, that was a smaller vessel. Tuesday commemorated the return of the major cruise operators.
“It’s very welcome. People here are extremely excited.”
“As the 18th-most-visited cruise ship port in the world, it’s nice to get back to business — even if it is just a small amount compared to what we usually get.”
Living with risk
Before COVID-19 hit, Skagway was receiving almost a million tourists off visiting cruise ships every year. Cruise ship tourism constituted nearly 95 percent of the area’s economy, according to Cremata.
Consequently, the pandemic hit Skagway hard as the cruise sector came to a halt. Even the small but still important stream of overland visitors from neighbouring Whitehorse ceased. It was uncertain at the time how the town could survive.
Cremata says that is why the community can live with the risk of COVID-19 arriving by sea, as the alternative is worse.
“My guess is at least some of the ships, if not all of them, are going to have situations where there’s a person that has COVID or a passenger that, you know, had some exposure,” he stated.
“I think people here understand the stakes. If we’re going to have a community here in the next couple of years, we have to be willing to say, you know, we’ve done what we can do to mitigate our risk and we have to have an economy and everyone has to have an income.”
Officials in Juneau also reveal that they are expecting COVID-19 cases on visiting cruise ships.
Robert Barr, Juneau’s deputy city manager, told KTOO Public Media, “I think that we were never expecting the cruise season to be entirely COVID free.” He declared he was confident in the area’s efforts with the cruise sector and state health department to guarantee a safe season.
State health executives have stated that vaccines are the best defence against the spread of the virus. The state epidemiologist, Dr. Joe McLaughlin, noted the vaccine effectiveness is “exceptionally high” but stated the vaccine is “not perfect.”
In Skagway, Cremata reveals the local population is “highly vaccinated,” however, he also acknowledges that is not enough. The area is still encouraging people to maintain social distance, and wear masks indoors.
“Nothing in life comes without risk. So maybe we have a little bit higher risk than we did. But if people are taking the necessary precautions for the health of themselves and their families, it should be okay,” he noted.
“Now that we have ships coming in town, I intend to wear a mask in public all the time.”