Public health experts anticipate that the coronavirus (COVID-19) could have far-reaching impacts for Americans before this epidemic runs its course. It’s too early to predict how many people will be infected, how our lives and businesses will be disrupted, and how local and national economies are affected.
At this point, the port and the dozens of federal, state and local entities that we work with are focusing on preparedness, not panic. Our first priority has been steps to protect the health of our passengers, crew, staff and port partners. With those measures in place, we’re analyzing how our business could be impacted and what steps we could take to mitigate those potential impacts.
As North America’s fourth busiest cruise port, our No. 1 focus has and will remain the health and safety of everyone on the waterfront. That’s why we organized a multi-agency infectious disease tabletop exercise on March 2 and why we are in constant communications with more than a dozen federal, state and local entities to coordinate our responses.
The U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Galveston County Health District, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have absolute authority during any public health incident, including issues related to any infectious disease. These agencies dictate the protocols, and the port follows them.
In response to this new virus, the port has increased staffing for cleaning and disinfection in port-owned cruise terminals, the gangway and parking shuttles during and after cruise operations. Activities include the following:
- Increased use of antiviral and bacteria-killing disinfectants
- Additional cleaning in the terminals, including restrooms
- Increased deep cleaning of high-touch areas like handrails, escalators, elevator buttons and restroom doors
- Providing personal bottles of hand sanitizer
We’ve also identified screening locations in both terminals. If needed, we have quarantine locations identified within both terminals. The port, in collaboration with the Galveston County Health District and the University of Texas Medical Branch, has established debarkation procedures if passengers and crew are suspected of infection. The cruise lines have also implemented their own rigorous protocols. Find details and resources under Updates at www.portofgalveston.com.
What about the business?
It’s far too early to say what impacts the pandemic will have on port revenues this year. Just last Friday Royal Caribbean announced a voluntary suspension of all U.S. sailings for 30 days.
While our 2019 cruise and parking revenues totaled $31.1 million, I want to emphasize that our cargo and lay ship businesses, which accounted for $20.4 million total revenues in 2019, remain strong. We’ll look to maximize these revenues in the interim, and our staff will continue to analyze various scenarios as this fluid situation evolves.
We also have built up revenue reserves to be prepared for situations like this should our business be interrupted.
We’ll continue to work closely with various federal, state and local agencies and officials to follow their public health recommendations and to share updates, guidance and information on what actions need to be taken.