SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



Have A Happy, Healthy Tourist Season
By Marie L. Monyak


June 17, 2006

I can appreciate the concern recently voiced by a local resident regarding the Norwalk Virus. We are a protective bunch here in Ketchikan and that's part of what makes our town and our life here so great. But, there are two sides to every story. As someone who works on the cruise ship dock every summer, allow me to spin a story.

Great Aunt Bessie from Milwaukee has been planning her cruise to Alaska for a long, long time, saving every dime for years. Just six hours before she boards her cruise ship she unknowingly comes in contact with someone with the Norwalk virus, which by the way is nothing more than a fancy name for the stomach flu or "gastroenteritis" according to the Centers for Disease Control.

During Aunt Bessie's first day at sea she has severe stomach cramps and all the usual stomach flu symptoms. The ship's medical officer QUARENTININES her to her cabin. She will not see Alaska after all, her shore excursions are cancelled and refunded and most cruise lines will refund a portion of the cost of the cruise or issue coupons to be used on future cruises AT THE EXPENSE OF THE CRUISE LINE. Special steps are taken in the cleaning of her room and laundry so as not to spread the illness to her fellow passengers and crew.

While Aunt Bessie is quarantined on deck four, George and Mabel from Texas are in their cabin on deck six having the time of their lives enjoying their very first cruise and as the gangway is lowered in Ketchikan they re the first ones off the ship. Unfortunately they come in contact with a Ketchikan resident in a local gift shop who has the stomach flu. Halfway back to Seattle, George comes down with a full blown case of the Norwalk virus, resulting in quarantine and a missed flight home.

Whether the illness came from New Orleans or Las Vegas, Juneau or Ketchikan, when people are ill measures need to be taken to contain the illness and prevent its spread. Sort of like the chicken and the egg, does it really matter which came first?

It helps to understand that the Norwalk Virus is something most every one of us has had at least once in our lives. The new name has fooled many into thinking it's some new exotic illness never experienced in Ketchikan. Not so.

I know that I appreciate the steps taken by the cruise industry to avoid contamination. I'm sure a representative of the cruise lines could explain all of this much better but allow me to share what I do know of the precautions taken by them.

Before boarding their cruise ship, every passenger must complete a very personal questionnaire about their health, recent illnesses and contact with infected persons. All passengers are informed about the Norwalk Virus and it is explained to them that because they're in such close quarters on the ship, the possibility of contagion is higher than if they were in their own homes. Passengers are also advised to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. Crew members are to discreetly report anyone showing signs of illness. The hand sanitizer dispensers that are so obvious at the bottom of every gangway are used by both passengers and crew alike when DEPARTING the ship to visit their ports of call and when RETURNING to the ship. There may be even more measures taken that I am personally not aware of.

What I do know is that the cruise lines are businesses and just like any business in Ketchikan, they can't make a profit by canceling shore excursions or giving refunds. If one of our local hotels had to quarantine their guests they would lose money on their rooms just as the Mercury did recently in Seattle. It is in the best interest of the cruise industry to take whatever measures necessary to prevent any and all communicable diseases or illness.

I do not know of any business in Ketchikan that questions their employees about their health before beginning their work day nor do they instruct their employees on proper hand washing techniques. Now that just may make you feel bad for the tourists!

Let's try and remember that although we hear it countless times, these people ARE on the trip of a lifetime -and they just want to see the Great Land, meet her people and go home with wonderful memories. A little empathy for our visitors should be in order.

Last but certainly not least, all of my fellow Ketchikanites working on the dock or in the tourism industry should make every effort to wash their hands as often as possible and try to avoid friends and family members that are sick.

So here's to a happy, healthy, profitable tourist season, Cheers!

Marie L Monyak
Ketchikan, AK - USA

About: Year round local resident, seasonal worker on the cruise ship dock, occasional freelance writer, singer of sad songs, drinker of rare wines, ballroom dancer, dog therapist and cat hypnotist. Sorry, I just got a little carried away with myself!


Related Viewpoint:

letter Why?Why?Why? By Joan Hurilman - Ketchikan, AK - USA



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