With cruise ships set to make dozens of stops in American cities over the next few weeks as cases of COVID-19 mount, President Donald Trump asked major cruise operators to stop outgoing cruises late Friday as many already seemed poised to cease operations.
On Friday morning, it was not too late to book a room on Carnival’s 3,000-passenger Sunshine ship scheduled to leave from the Port of Charleston on Monday. Interior rooms for the five-day trip with two stops in the Bahamas started at $309. A suite would have set you back $975.
Until Friday afternoon, cruises continued to dock at Union Pier in downtown Charleston, spilling thousands of passengers and crew members at the foot of Market Street. Trump’s own State Department warned against cruise travel for vulnerable Americans five days ago.
The pause in cruise operations will last for 30 days.
The port is just steps away from Charleston’s economic hub, one of the biggest tourist draws in the state, but the South Carolina Ports Authority controls who ties up at the Charleston cruise terminal and other agencies have oversight over cruise operations themselves. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg pushed the issue of suspending cruise operations with SPA officials during a meeting Friday morning, but representatives told the mayor, “Carnival has instituted strong measures to protect safety by testing and monitoring all passengers,” according to city spokesman Jack O’Toole.
Between now and April 14, five different ships, not all Carnival, were scheduled to make 12 stops in Charleston, according to the Ports Authority’s calendar. Cruise liners have already made 21 stops in Charleston in 2020, with 104 scheduled for the year.
The office of Gov. Henry McMaster did not respond to requests Friday morning about whether the state had considered closing the Charleston cruise port.
As recently as last weekend, Trump’s concerns over cruises seemed limited to the number of cases a ship full of sick passengers could add to the total number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
As of March 12, state health officials in South Carolina have confirmed six cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Six others are presumed to have tested positive, but have not been confirmed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Official Department of Health and Environmental Control guidance said widespread cancellation of public events was not needed, but most large gatherings scheduled for this weekend around Charleston have been canceled or postponed.
Thousands of passengers who left the Port of Charleston on Thursday were not tested as they walked off the Carnival Sunshine, according to The Post and Courier.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closing of Baltimore’s cruise port on Thursday. Passengers on two ships scheduled to land at the port will be tested before disembarking, according to Baltimore CBS affiliate WGZ. More than 20 passengers and crew on a Princess cruise ship fell ill last week, scrambling state officials to make a plan for how to test and isolate those on board.
The impact of positive cases can be felt far from ports of call. In Iowa, a landlocked state with no cruise terminals, dozens of people are being quarantined after traveling on a cruise in Egypt. Nationwide, more than 100,000 passengers could make their way on shore from cruise ships this week, according to USA Today.
Major cruise lines have taken a beating on the markets amid the spread of the coronavirus. Royal Caribbean’s stock price has dropped more than 74 percent from a year ago, Carnival is down more than 73 percent.
Nearly a week ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said older people and those with health conditions should avoid large crowds and travel.
“If you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable,” Fauci said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“So it’s our responsibility to protect the vulnerable. When I say protect, I mean right now. Not wait until things get worse,” Fauci said.
“Say no large crowds, no long trips. And above all, don’t get on a cruise ship.”