Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is catching the eyes of the media as it makes its way to infecting over 90,000 people in just three months. The “blueprint priority virus” has dominated headlines around the globe, and for good reason.
Long time Ketchikan residents and safety officials weighed in on the topic, many of whom directed their concern, or lack of, towards the upcoming cruise ship season.
Steve Corporon, the port and harbors director in Ketchikan and a member of the local emergency planning committee, said during an interview for KTVA last Wednesday that the coronavirus will be treated much like any other virus or disease with a potential to infect Ketchiikan via cruise ship travel.
“It’s not always guaranteed that ships are going to be coming, whether it be weather, or global events or medical global events. We’re always keeping an eye on things and that’s why we always have these contingency plans to follow,” said Corporon
With the cruise ship season less than two months away, concern regarding Ketchikan’s passenger count are beginning to arise throughout the community.
Corporon is predicting a rise in the expected number.
“If things stay about where they are now, actually, our passenger count is probably going to go up as a result of this as opposed to going down as some of the lines are looking to pull ships out of the Asian market and are looking for places to put them this season,” he said. COVID-19 has proven to be more contagious than the 2003 Severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, widely known as SARS.
Despite its severe contagious nature, experts estimate the mortality rate between 1% and 3.3%. Among the victims are those with weak immune and respiratory systems, such as elderly persons.
While a risk still exists, this is not the first virus or disease that has sent the entire world into panic. In 2015 we were faced with Ebola, followed by the Zika virus in 2017.
The reason this mildy deadly disease is striking fear into the minds of millions is partly due to its mild nature. This is nothing new to Ketchikan and the cruise industry, as ships bring mild viruses and diseases each year.
Local business owner and long time Ketchikan resident John Malouf has experienced multiple virus encounters during his years as a tour operator.
During a meeting with fellow tour operators Sunday, he explained how his company manages these types of situations.
“Will the coronavirus come here? Who knows. I certainly don’t,” said Malouf. “I plan on following the same procedures we have in place for red flag ships, when they come into port.”
These procedures involve sanitizing hand rails and seats aboard the tour vehicles up to five times a day, he added.
“While it can be a pain in the butt, it’s important to keep not only future guests safe, but also my employees,” he said. “It’s hard to tell how this will affect the 2020 season, but it’s never a bad idea to proactively prepare for the worst case scenario.”
The potential effect of the virus is not the only worry among Ketchikan residents and business owners. Rod Thomas, owner and operator of Alaska Sportfishing Adventures, has already experienced what the virus can and will do to business.
“When you hear about this virus, whatever they are calling it now, all anybody worries about is the upcoming tourism season. What many people fail to mention or realize is that the virus has already affected one of Ketchikan’s largest industries, our dive fisheries,” he said.
The dive fishery experienced a premature closure this winter as the Chinese markets closed and denied the sale of geoduck clams shortly after the virus made headlines.
John Malouf, who is a commercial diver in the winter and a tour operator in the summer, also mentioned the effect the virus had on the dive fishery
“The market just shut down, and that was it. It went from a short two week closure to a full on shut down in a matter of days,” he said.
China is the largest buyer and market distributor of geoducks in the world, buying tens of thousands of pounds each week from local divers.
“It was a surprise for sure, being that divers had at least another month left to harvest,” Thomas said. “If I had to guess, I would say that the worst of it is yet to come, but to say that we should cancel the season, or take extreme precautions would be jumping the gun at this point.”