First Alaska cruise of season cut short after COVID-19 passenger contracts

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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – The first cruise in an already decimated cruise season in Southeast Alaska ended Wednesday when a small ship carrying 36 passengers returned to Juneau after one of the guests had tested positive to COVID-19. The 36 guests of the Wilderness Adventurer will be quarantined in a hotel and the 30 crew members will be quarantined on the ship in the Gastineau Channel, just outside of downtown Juneau.

The loss of cruise ships capable of carrying thousands of people has been devastating for Alaska’s tourism economy this summer, especially for communities in Southeast Alaska who have reportedly seen their populations swell with the influx of tourists.

The state tourism industry had forecast 2.2 million visitors, many of them on cruises.

The largest cruise ships – those carrying more than 250 passengers and crew – have been banned from navigation, but small businesses have been allowed to continue operating.

The trip canceled by UnCruise Adventures was the first of the season. The company had planned four more cruises, but chose to cancel the entire season in Alaska after testing positive, spokeswoman Liz Galloway said.

“When we set sail last Saturday we had many loyal guests, an energetic crew and a large part of the general public supporting us. This is not a development we were hoping for but I am proud that my team showed their commitment to the safety of our operations and we handled the event quickly, ”said UnCruise Adventures owner and operator Dan Blanchard .

“From an industry perspective, people were hoping we would lead the way and were hoping for our group departures of less than 40 people. We will continue to adapt to this development and look to a new day, ”said Blanchard.

A message left with the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, was not immediately returned.

Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau, said the cruise line, passengers and crew had worked hard to get the trip started. “They followed all the referral protocols, put their plans in place. And I think that just shows how insidious this virus is and the need for better, more accessible tests, ”Perry said.

UnCruise Adventurers said the guest who tested positive was notified on board the ship.

City officials said the cruise ship did not dock in any other Alaskan city within three days of leaving Juneau.

The company said the guest took a five-day testing option before leaving home and received a negative result, as required to board the ship. However, the person had another test on arrival at Juneau airport, which came back positive.

The city said the guest was not showing any symptoms and the company added that other guests and crew were not showing “outward symptoms of any kind.”

Passengers were advised to limit themselves to their cabins until their return to Juneau.

The development came as the state prepares to change its testing requirements for non-Alaskan travelers. Under the plan, they will no longer have a 14-day quarantine option.

Starting Tuesday, non-resident travelers will have to prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of leaving for Alaska or provide proof of a pending result from a test taken within 72 hours after their departure for Alaska.

If they arrive without either, testing will be available at airports, but there will be a fee of $ 250 per test, state officials said. People with pending test results should quarantine themselves while waiting for the results. According to state quarantine protocols, a person should not receive visitors or leave their quarantine location, except in the event of a medical emergency or necessary medical attention.

It was not immediately clear how the testing requirement will be enforced if a traveler refuses a test or does not enter the state by air. People also visit Alaska by boat and can travel to the state through Canada, although there are restrictions on travel through Canada.

Residents will continue to be allowed to undergo testing at airports free of charge and maintain a 14-day quarantine option, according to the state’s health department.

Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer reported from Juneau.

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