In an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, the Seattle Port Authority announced Wednesday they would be canceling the first two cruise ships of the season.
“This region is in a public health emergency and we will cancel the first two sailings of our cruise season,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter Steinbrueck in a press release. “The health, safety, and wellbeing of our residents is our top priority.”
The Grand Princess was scheduled to head from Seattle to Canada and back to California. Later in the season, the ship is scheduled to come to Alaska. The Celebrity Eclipse is scheduled to head from California up through Seattle to Canada, and is also scheduled to come to Alaska later in the season.
The Port will continue working with first responders, cruise lines, and local leaders, and consider current public health guidance, as well as enhanced actions that the cruise lines are undertaking, to determine future sailings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.
According to City and Borough of Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, CBJ will make decisions on whether to close or limit port entry at the appropriate times based on the best available guidance from public health officials.
“I want the public to know that we are focusing all of our efforts on the here and now – the risk of COVID-19 today, this week, next week,” Watt said in a press release. “Cruise ships with passengers are not scheduled to come to Southeast until late April. Much will happen between now and then, and CBJ’s management of our port will be in accordance with guidance from the State of Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Watt said by phone Wednesday afternoon that the cruise ship season in Alaska is still six weeks off, so any action about restricting or limiting ships is still premature since a lot can change between now and then.
“Look back six weeks and where coronavirus was six weeks ago… that’s how far it is until our cruise ship season starts. Let’s worry about cruise ships in the middle of April or potential local action in April,” he said.
Juneau is probably two weeks behind Seattle in terms of what’s happening, he said.
“We have to look at Seattle as the vanguard of disease spread and appropriate public health response,” Watt said.
The tourism industry accounts 8,004 jobs — around 18% of the total workforce — in Southeast Alaska, according to Rain Coast Data, and those jobs are likely to take a hit should any Alaska sailings be pushed back or canceled. The industry generated about a quarter billion in 2018, making it the second biggest industry for the region after government. 1.44 million cruise passengers were predicted to pass through Southeast, but those numbers have likely already fallen after the CDC advised against cruise travel. Updated predictions have not been made public by the Cruise Line Industry Association.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said business concerns are second to the health of Alaskans.
As for helping individuals and businesses cope with the economic impacts, Dunleavy says "it's second to the health concerns."
"No doubt we'll also be talking about the economic impact." #akleg
— Matt Acuña Buxton (@mattbuxton) March 11, 2020
This morning Dunleavy declared a state of emergency after the World Health Organization classified the virus as a pandemic, opening up avenues for more federal funding. Later in the day, the Legislature passed a bill that funds the mental health budget that included $4 million of state funding and $9 million of federal funding to combat COVID-19.
The cancelled April 1 and April 5 sailings are “port of call” sailings for Seattle, which means that the vessel makes a one-day stop in Seattle on its way to a different destination.
The overwhelming majority of sailings at the Port of Seattle are “homeport” sailings, many of which head north to Alaska. For a homeport sailing, passengers begin and end their cruise in Seattle. Local suppliers provide the vessel with goods and supplies, and guests often spend time in the region before or after their cruise. As a result, each homeport sailing creates approximately $4 million in business activity for the region. Cruise season in Seattle generates nearly $900 million in business activity and supports 5,500 jobs. As of now, no sailings to Alaska have been affected.
In the interim, CBJ officials recommend the public should take action now to prevent and slow the spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19):
- Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer if soap or water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and face.
- Cover coughs or sneezes.
- Stop shaking hands.
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items.