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As long as COVID-19 remains a global health threat, the Galveston Wharves and its partners will work diligently to update preparedness plans to maintain safe, sustainable cruising. Earlier this week, port staff convened a meeting of our multi-agency Infectious Disease Response Team to prepare for potential impacts of the omicron variant.
Attendees represented more than 14 agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston County Health District, City of Galveston Office of Emergency Management, Galveston County Office of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Emergency Management, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Galveston Wharves and various maritime industries, including the cruise lines.
All play important roles in our region’s COVID response. Their planning, support and ongoing collaboration have been the key to our port’s successful response to COVID.
PREPARING FOR OMICRON
The team met virtually on Jan. 4 to review the current situation and expected trends. They also reviewed COVID safety protocols being followed as outlined in the return-to-sailing agreements mandated and approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year.
The agreements, made between cruise lines, the Galveston Wharves and the Galveston County Health District, detail processes and procedures to prevent the spread of COVID and to respond in the event of an outbreak. Response plans include provisions for health care, transportation and lodging, if needed.
The team also discussed the possible need for additional resources and logistics to debark a larger number of cruise staff and passengers identified as COVID-positive.
The number of COVID cases on the cruise ships sailing from Galveston remains well below what we are seeing in the public. This is due to the strict vaccine and testing requirements, as well as the many other safety protocols practiced daily in the terminals and onboard the vessels.
The current plans drafted by the port, cruise lines and Galveston County Health District, and approved by the CDC, are working well. Since cruises resumed from Galveston in July, we have not seen any issues that these plans cannot address.
I believe that this response team is an international model for how ports and their cruise industry partners can successfully manage COVID. The goal is maintaining safe, sustainable cruising for the benefit of cruise staff, passengers, onshore staff and local businesses. This team of experts has done an outstanding job. We will continue to monitor the situation and respond as needed.
I am incredibly proud of our port staff for their efforts. I want to recognize Deputy Port Director Brett Milutin, who facilitates the response team and oversees COVID safety procedures and protocols for the port.
The Galveston Wharves organized the response team’s first COVID-related planning meeting in March 2020, just two months after the CDC announced the first case in the U.S. and before COVID infections were even suspected in Galveston County.
When I read about new medical advances and forecasts about how the virus will evolve to a less serious health threat, I am hopeful that we will get through this omicron phase and continue to expand cruise operations without major disruption. This industry is vital for our port and our community.
In 2019 cruise lines sailing from Galveston attracted more than 1 million passengers, generated 26,900 jobs and totaled $1.6 billion in cruise industry direct expenditures statewide. I’m hopeful that we can ramp up to those levels again by the end of the year.
Rodger Rees is Galveston Wharves port director and CEO.