ANCHORAGE — The first cruise in an already decimated Southeast Alaska cruise season came to a devastating end Wednesday when a small ship carrying 36 passengers returned to Juneau because one of the guests had tested positive for COVID-19.
All 36 guests on the Wilderness Adventurer will quarantine at a hotel and the 30 crew members will quarantine on the ship in Gastineau Channel, just off Juneau’s downtown.
The loss of cruise ships capable of carrying thousands of people has been devastating to Alaska’s tourism economy this summer, particularly for communities in Southeast Alaska that would have seen their populations swell with the influx of tourists.
The state tourism industry had anticipated 2.2 million visitors, many of them on cruises.
Larger cruise ships — those carrying more than 250 passengers and crew members — have been under no-sail orders, but smaller companies were allowed to continue operating.
The canceled trip by UnCruise Adventures was the first of the season. The company had four additional cruises planned but opted to cancel the entire Alaska season after the positive test, spokeswoman Liz Galloway said.
“When we set sail last Saturday we had many loyal guests, an energized crew, and much of the general public rooting for us. This is not a development we’d hoped for but I’m proud that my team has shown their commitment to the safety of our operation and have managed the event expeditiously,” UnCruise Adventures owner and operator Dan Blanchard said.
“From an industry standpoint, people were hoping we’d lead the way and were hopeful for our less than 40-person group departures. We will continue to adapt to this evolution and look towards a new day,” Blanchard said.
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 company, passengers and crew worked hard to get the trip going. “They followed all the guidance protocols, had their plans in place. And I think it just points to how insidious this virus actually is and the need for better and more accessible testing,” Perry said.
UnCruise Adventurers said the guest who tested positive was notified while onboard the ship.
City officials said the cruise ship did not dock in any other Alaska cities in the three days after it left Juneau.
The company said the guest took a five-day testing option before leaving home and received a negative result, as required to get on board the ship. However, the person took another test when arriving at the Juneau airport, which came back positive.
The city said the guest was showing no symptoms and the company added that other guests and crew were not showing any “outward symptoms of any kind.”
Passengers were asked to restrict themselves to their cabins until arriving back in Juneau.
The development came as the state prepares to change its testing requirements for nonresident travelers to Alaska. Under the plan, they will no longer have a 14-day quarantine option.
Starting Tuesday, nonresident travelers will need to prove they 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 of leaving for Alaska.
If they arrive without either, testing will be available at airports, but there will be a $250 charge per test, state officials said. Individuals with pending test results must quarantine while awaiting results. Under the state’s quarantine protocols, a person is not to have visitors or leave their quarantine location except for medical emergencies or necessary medical care.
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 plane. People also visit Alaska by boat and can get to the state through Canada, though there are restrictions on travel through Canada.
Residents will continue to be allowed to get testing at airports for no cost and maintain a 14-day quarantine option, according to the state health department.
• By Mark Thiessen, Associated Press