After COVID outbreak, small cruise ship to resume Southeast sailings

The American Constellation is docked near downtown on Thursday, July 15, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The American Cruise Lines ship has been in port and hosting quarantining crew since several tested positive for COVID-19. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

A small cruise ship that canceled a sailing this month because of COVID-19 cases plans to resume its summer schedule this week.

American Cruise Lines’ ship the American Constellation has been docked in Juneau since July 10. Three people tested positive for coronavirus and disembarked to recover in Petersburg July 9. The City and Borough of Juneau says the total case count from that ship eventually reached 16. Nine have since recovered. Juneau’s emergency operations center planned another round of testing for that ship Tuesday, July 20.

The company is requiring COVID -19 vaccinations for its passengers on Alaska cruises. Both vaccinated passengers and unvaccinated crew members tested positive during the outbreak.

During a meeting Monday, Petersburg borough assembly member Jeff Meucci said he was generally happy with the local response but wanted to be more informed.

“I would just had liked to been maybe more in the loop as things were progressing, just so in case the assembly was asked to weigh in on something. I wasn’t quite prepared at that time but I think overall I’m pretty satisfied with the way things went,” Meucci said.

Petersburg disbanded its emergency operations center at the end of last month after the assembly voted to end local health mandates. The community had been requiring cruise ships to get prior approval from the borough’s health officer before docking here, but that ended last month as well. This outbreak occurred a little over a week after that requirement expired.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht explained that spread of information would not be as quick without the emergency operations center.

“I would encourage people that have questions to talk to public health and the hospital and to just say the updates are not going to come as fast and furious as they were when we had literally an entire team of borough department heads focused on it as well as many other staff,” Giesbrecht said.

A spokesperson for American Cruise Lines emailed Tuesday that the company planned to resume its schedule, with the ship departing Juneau on Wednesday, July 21. The company declined an interview request. The spokesperson said the cruise line’s protocols have worked.

The ship arrived early in Petersburg Thursday, July 8, seeking testing for a passenger showing symptoms. The first positive was confirmed by the following morning. Nevertheless, other passengers disembarked in Petersburg and circulated in the community that Friday.

Sandy Dixson is the borough’s emergency manager and took part in a conference call with state and local officials and cruise lines representatives on that Friday, July 9.

“They had pondered going to Ketchikan,” Dixson said. “There was a person from Ketchikan and they were like, yeah, we don’t think so. So they immediately made the decision to go back to Juneau and cancel the trip. So they called their people back. Unfortunately people were already out on excursions and roaming about town, which was very unfortunate. But I think they did a pretty good job. I think the communication went well.”

Dixson praised the work of the Petersburg Medical Center and public health nurse to respond to that ship to test passengers and offer vaccine to crew.

Borough assembly member and book store employee Chelsea Tremblay also hoped for quicker communication. She noted that another small cruise ship also had passengers in town that day.

“You know, going forward, if there’s a way to once some things are known, figuring out how to let the Chamber know so they can disburse it from there,” Tremblay suggested. “Because all of us doing front retail, life, interacting with folks, immediately as we’re all talking about it, we’re having face-to-face interactions. I’m seeing other community members coming in who I know are vulnerable. That’s where some of the disconnect, not even just from assembly side, just from public knowledge side, hoping we can dial that in even more,” she said.

The other passengers from that ship continued on to Juneau and flew out of the capital city after an early end to the voyage.

These were not the only COVID-19 cases reported in Petersburg that week. Following a busy weekend of events for the community’s Independence Day celebration, the medical center had already reported two positives in local residents earlier that week with no connection to this cruise voyage.

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KFSK is our partner station in Petersburg. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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