Cruise ships will not be accepted in Astoria unless cruise lines demonstrate rigorous screening for the coronavirus and there is the capacity for public health and emergency management to absorb patients from an infected vessel, local officials said.
The U.S. Coast Guard is the first line of defense for screening inbound ships. But officials from Astoria, Clatsop County and the Port of Astoria, recognizing that residents have legitimate concerns about the safety of cruise ships, announced additional safeguards after a meeting on Monday.
The Grand Princess was quarantined off the coast of California after one of its former passengers became the state’s first confirmed death from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Astoria was scheduled to host the ship March 31, but regional cruise ship managers concluded it could not begin its voyage up the West Coast in time.
Local officials doubled down on that conclusion.
“First, it is not possible that she will be ready to pass Coast Guard screening protocols on that date,” Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones said in a statement with Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan, the chairwoman of the county Board of Commissioners, and Will Isom, the executive director of the Port. “Second, even if she did, we collectively agree that we would decline her visit.”
Health and safety
The local officials said public health and safety is their top concern.
The State Department has issued an advisory urging U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, not to travel by cruise ships. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that travelers defer all cruise ship travel worldwide. “Cruise ship passengers are at an increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19,” the CDC said.
Cruise lines, local officials said, must “proactively demonstrate the most rigorous and enhanced standards of screening of vessel, passengers and crew for COVID-19 before the community would consider accepting a visit.”
Local capacity for absorbing coronavirus patients from an infected vessel will also be a factor. “This capacity may change rapidly once infections are found in Clatsop County,” officials said.
“Because there will be no scheduled cruise ship visit before April 4 at the very earliest, for the time being we will continue to actively monitor the federal guidelines and requirements as they evolve and plan collaboratively,” the statement said. “We will meet well before the first scheduled visit to reassess and decide jointly on a path forward regarding cruise ship visits.”
Astoria is scheduled to host more than 35 cruise ships this year, starting with the Celebrity Eclipse on April 4. The Grand Princess is still scheduled for two visits May 7 and Oct. 18.
Some cruise ships have relocated away from Asia itineraries toward the West Coast. Astoria is now in line for two new visits by the Celebrity Millennium April 22 and April 27.
Signs go up at schools
The Astoria School District also announced new measures because of the virus.
Beginning Tuesday, signs went up at each building entrance telling people what to do if they feel ill, Superintendent Craig Hoppes wrote in a letter sent to parents and staff.
Among other measures, staff will be asked to track any illnesses parents bring up with them — a process that has been done to some extent in the past but will be reinforced, Hoppes wrote.
School buses and buildings have been disinfected and custodial staff will be asked to clean common areas more frequently.
Hoppes also emphasized simple, everyday steps people can take to reduce their chances of exposure, such as washing their hands often and staying home if sick.
Local schools are following guidance from the Oregon Health Authority, which recommends against closing schools and campuses when there are no cases of the virus, Hoppes said. If a case is detected among students or staff, the state still recommends that schools consider all alternatives before closing.
“The safety, health and well-being of our students and staff is our highest priority,” Hoppes wrote. “We are working diligently, in partnership with public health experts, to minimize the disruption to schools and to provide a safe and healthy place for everyone. We will continue to monitor this matter closely, and will react as appropriate.”
With new recommendations about how to limit exposure to the virus have come event cancellations.
As a precaution, the county postponed a community conversation on a school-based health center at Knappa High School on Thursday until further notice.
The presentation “Surviving a Tsunami” scheduled for Saturday in Manzanita was canceled. The speaker, Brian Atwater, a University of Washington professor, asked to be excused because of an advisory that King County residents over 60 years old limit their travel.
The Riverbend Players, a community theater group based in Nehalem, postponed upcoming one-act play performances scheduled for the end of March because of uncertainty around the virus.