In some Southeast Alaska communities, COVID cases are rising as cruise season starts

A cruise ship approaches Juneau
The Norwegian Bliss, the first large cruise ship of the 2022 season, arrives in Juneau on April 25, 2022. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

COVID cases are rising across the country as out-of-state travelers make their way to Alaska on cruise ships.

“There’s a lot of different people coming from a lot of different places,” state epidemiologist Dr. Louisa Castrodale said at a public health presentation on Wednesday. “There’s some really good measures that you should be taking, regardless of COVID, anytime you’re going on a cruise ship.”

Those measures recommended by the CDC include frequent hand-washing as well as staying up to date on flu shots, measles vaccines and other immunizations.

Nationally, COVID-19 case counts rose by 22% this week.

Overall, Alaska saw a 4% decrease this week, with 1,435 cases reported over the last seven days. But some of the highest case rates and sharpest increases were in communities — like Skagway, Petersburg, and Sitka — that will see a lot of visits from cruise ships. And their COVID cases have been rising just as cruise season is getting underway.

Skagway’s case rate was 959 per 100,000 residents over the last seven days. For Sitka, that number was 997, and for Petersburg it was 1,034. The case counts don’t include home tests.

The first big cruise ship to visit Southeast this year was the Norwegian Bliss, which arrived in Juneau on Monday with about 2,000 passengers on board.

State epidemiologist Dr. Eric Mooring said Alaskans living in more remote communities should pay attention to hospital capacity in their regions. He said travel within regions can contribute to community spread.

“When we see higher levels of COVID in one part of Southeast Alaska, we sometimes also see them in other areas around the same time as well,” he said. “Despite the lack of roads, people are clearly moving around.”

The CDC has an online dashboard tracking COVID outbreaks on cruise ships. Cruise lines on the dashboard opted into the CDC’s COVID program. So far, 76 of the 97 ships on the dashboard have reported cases.

State health officials are also watching for a subvariant of the BA.2 omicron variant, BA2.12.1. State epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said that so far, that subvariant has not yet reached Alaska, though it makes up 9.9% of cases in the region that includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The subvariant accounts for more than half of all current cases in the region that includes New York and New Jersey, according to the CDC.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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