(BIVN) – Visiting cruise ships continue to be a concern in Hawaiʻi, but state officials say there is little they can do about it.
Crusie ships became an increased concern after 21 people aboard the Grand Princess, which made a port call in Hilo on February 28, were confirmed to have COVID-19. The Department of Health says it is working closely with the CDC to notify any passengers in Hawaiʻi and trace all close contacts.
“The public is advised that exposure risk to tour operators and other hospitality services who interact with visitors on cruises is low,” the state said on Thursday. “Companies should work on finding out which specific employees actually had close contact (close personal face-to-face contact for more than 10 minutes) with Grand Princess cruise passengers. DOH is contacting companies to gather this information. Companies are advised to notify their workers that there have been individuals from the Grand Princess cruise who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and the overall risk to hospitality workers is low.”
State officials say the closure of ports is the responsibility of the federal government. The U.S. Coast Guard has such authority.
The topic was discussed during Mayor Harry Kim’s unscheduled briefing to the Hawaiʻi County Council on Wednesday in Hilo.
Hawaiʻi Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said on Thursday that she sent a letter to President Trump calling for a temporary suspension of all cruise line operations nationwide “until there are proper procedures available to ensure with total and absolute certainty that all people can be tested for COVID-19 and cleared before boarding or disembarking cruise ships.”
Rep. Gabbard wrote:
Dear President Trump:
Out of great concern over the continuing and uncontrolled threat posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, I write to urge you to temporarily suspend operations of all cruise lines nationwide until there are proper procedures available to ensure with total and absolute certainty that all people can be tested and cleared before boarding or disembarking cruise ships. I also urge your Administration to work with the industry to ensure affected passengers are refunded the cost of their tickets.
It is imperative that the cruise ship industry in the United States halt all service to prevent community spread for the foreseeable future. An outbreak of COVID-19 aboard a crowded ship unquestionably presents high-stakes difficulties, particularly in the Pacific Region and my home state of Hawai‘i, where Lieutenant Governor Josh Green has called on your Administration to temporarily ban cruise ships from docking in the islands. We cannot afford to let cruise passengers risk infections in our country, causing mass exposures in our communities or risking another cruise ship being quarantined at sea.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that cruise ship passengers are at at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases. In addition, the CDC recommends travelers, particularly older adults and those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise ship travel worldwide. The State Department also has stated publicly that “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship,” in alignment with the CDC. And today, the Office of the Attending Physician advised not to initiate travel on cruise ships until further guidance has determined this to be a safe practice.
According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Global Passenger Report, the median age of cruise passengers is between 60 and 69-year-olds. Further, Surgeon General of the United States Jerome Michael Adams explained that the virus had been more severe for older people based on the data currently available – this has also been confirmed by the World Health Organization.
The serious problems brought forth by the Grand Princess cruise ship this week and the Diamond Princess in Japan last month are enough to make this a major priority in response to COVID-19. In addition, in recent weeks, we have seen cruises denied entry into ports, passengers quarantined for weeks on these ships – some far from their homes, or outside their travels plans – and the need for repatriation flights to evacuate some passengers in dire need of care.
Until a guarantee is in place with a plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on cruise ships and in ports of entry, it is imperative that you call on cruise lines to halt all transport operations into and from the United States for the safety and protection of our nation, especially older Americans.