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Cruise Ships and COVID: Know Before You Go

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021   

HOUSTON -- To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is a pending dilemma for passengers expecting to be welcomed aboard a cruise ship as the industry prepares a post-pandemic restart.

The Port of Galveston is the country's fourth-busiest, employing around 30,000 people. At the same time, new laws in Texas and Florida state you cannot be required to show proof of vaccination to any Texas business, including cruise personnel.

Dietrich von Biedenfeld, assistant professor in business law at the University of Houston-Downtown, expected to see some businesses offer rewards or incentives to customers who are vaccinated as they attempt to protect their economic interests.

"Republican governors are actually taking away that economy from these private actors by telling them, 'We know better than you do what your business model should be and how to do that,'" von Biedenfeld explained.

Last week, two passengers aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19. The Carnival Cruise Line expects to resume cruises from Galveston in the next few weeks, and will require vaccines of all passengers. Other cruise lines have said they may "strongly recommend" vaccinations, but not require them.

Von Bielefeld pointed out people waiting for their ship to launch typically spend money on hotels, restaurants and rental cars, and worried the Galveston economy could be hurt by Texas not requiring proof of vaccinations if cruise-goers with health conditions or a compromised immune system go elsewhere.

"We've heard the phrase, 'floating petri dish,'" von Bielefeld remarked. "It's not a very flattering term for cruise ships, because individuals are isolated, so there are other ports of entry in the United States for cruise lines, so you might take a cruise ship out of another state."

Ahead of the pandemic, cruise-ship embarkations in Galveston increased almost 11% in 2019, cracking the one million mark for the first time, according to a study from the Cruise Line International Association.


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