7 fully vaccinated people test positive for COVID-19 on UnCruise ship sailing in Southeast Alaska

A cruise ship is docked with mountains in the background.
The Wilderness Adventurer, an UnCruise Adventures boat, tied up in Juneau on July 31, 2020. On Aug. 1, the ship was the first tourism passenger ship to sail in Southeast Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 26, 2021, there were seven cases of COVID-19 onboard another UnCruise ship, the Wilderness Explorer. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO)

Seven fully-vaccinated people aboard a small cruise ship that docked in Ketchikan over the weekend have tested positive for COVID-19.

In response, the ship’s operator UnCruise canceled a sailing over this past weekend.

The 74-passenger Wilderness Explorer had sailed to Juneau from Ketchikan Monday evening.

Assistant city manager Robert Barr said at least some of the positive people were planning to isolate in Juneau hotels.

“We’ve been working with UnCruise to make sure all that isolation is happening per public health guidance, to make sure that the case activities stays contained to those individuals until they’re done with their isolation period,” he said.

Juneau officials said risk to the community is minimal.

RELATED: Someone on a large cruise ship in Juneau has tested positive for COVID-19

Port officials in Ketchikan, where the Explorer docked over the weekend, were not immediately available to say whether any passengers from the vessel had circulated in the community.

It’s not clear when each of the seven people tested positive for COVID-19. UnCruise did not immediately respond to follow-up questions by phone or email. The company said it’s the first time a fully-vaccinated guest has tested positive for the disease on its ships.

Barr said that despite the positive tests, the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines are thought to be highly effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.

“The vaccine is very, very good at keeping people out of the hospital and keeping people from dying and getting seriously sick,” he said. “It’s not an iron-clad shield, it won’t necessarily completely prevent you from getting any version of the illness. But it does a very good job at keeping you from getting seriously sick.”

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In a statement, UnCruise owner and CEO Dan Blanchard said the seven positive individuals had mild, cold-like symptoms. The company said it’s testing all symptomatic passengers and crew, and working with local and state health officials to respond to COVID-19 cases, noting its decision to cancel this weekend’s cruise was voluntary and not prompted by Coast Guard or health agency requirements.

Small cruise vessels, including the entire UnCruise fleet, are not required to comply with federal pandemic rules that apply to larger ships.

In its statement, UnCruise speculates that the delta variant is behind the cases. Barr said it’s a fair assumption, but lab testing has not confirmed the variant’s presence on the Explorer.

Also on Monday, Juneau officials reported one case each on two additional cruise ships: One aboard a large ship, the Celebrity Millennium, and the other on another small ship, the American Constellation. That ship already had an outbreak of 16 passengers on an earlier sailing this season.

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