Cruise destinations in Alaska see surge in COVID cases

A white cruise ship at port
The Norwegian Bliss prepares to leave Juneau on June 5, 2018. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/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.

Alaska saw a 4% decrease this week, with 1,435 cases reported over the last seven days. Communities with some of the state’s highest case counts — and sharpest increases — include those frequently visited by cruise ships, like Skagway, Petersburg and Sitka.

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

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.

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