Southeast needs to protect its economy

The first cruise ships are less than four months away from pulling into Southeast Alaska ports. After a year of no ships in 2020, followed by a year of weak returns in 2021, the region is looking forward to a healthy number of cruise passengers this summer — maybe even a record number.

Businesses, their employees and sales tax collectors dream of a strong 2022 for a healthy rebuilding from the sickly COVID-19 economics of the past two cruise ship seasons.

The emphasis this year should be on healthy.

No cruise company is going to want to offload its passengers into a community in the midst of a COVID outbreak, risking that travelers could bring the virus back to the ship. Few passengers are going to want to walk through a town making headlines for record infections, hospitalizations, or worse.

No community in Southeast Alaska can afford a third bad year in a row for its tourism industry.

Already this winter, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late December warned people not to go on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of onboard outbreaks fueled by the Omicron variant.

The CDC said it has more than 90 cruise ships under investigation or observation as a result of COVID-19 cases.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high,” the agency said.

As of now, the CDC warning is a concern for Florida and other winter cruise hubs. Alaska does not need similar headlines a few months from now.

As Wrangell hopes to get through and past the Omicron variant, as the first new COVID cases in several weeks have been reported in town, as November’s record-setting tally of 66 infections is not all that long ago, it would be smart to think ahead to the summer tourism season and for each individual to make an effort to keep the community healthy.

Whether booster vaccination shots, masking in public or getting tested if feeling ill, don’t think of it as a debate over government control and personal freedom. Think of it as economic development. Or rather, realize it is the avoidance of economic hardship.

Wrangell needs to see more cruise ship visitors in town this summer, not visitors who wave as their ships pass us by to other, less-infected ports. Be safe, stay healthy and be aware — it’s good for the economy.

Wrangell Sentinel


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