Mobile looking to return of cruises by mid-summer

MOBILE, Ala. — With demand for COVID-19 vaccinations lagging at an immunization clinic set up at the Alabama Cruise Terminal, an official said the site could shut down soon as the cruise industry prepares to restart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines recently that would allow companies that meet certain benchmarks to resume operating around mid-July, and officials are hopeful Carnival Cruise Lines can resume its trips to the western Caribbean from Mobile.

The city’s cruise terminal near downtown is currently being used as a mass vaccination site by the Mobile County Health Department, but Health Officer Dr. Bert Eichold told WALA-TV he expects the operation to wrap up in the next couple of weeks.

“The mega-clinic site seems to be decreasing in demand, so we will be out of that facility when the cruise industry starts back,” he said. “It was a great site. The city was a great partner. Good use of space.”

More than 22% of the residents of Mobile County are fully vaccinated, according to CDC statistics. But the county, with about 413,000 residents, also has one of the higher levels of community disease transmission in Alabama, according to the state.

The area tourism agency said cruises account for 35,000 hotel nights and $150 million annually, and the more than yearlong shutdown of the industry has taken a chunk out of the local economy.

“It’s been a big blow. Tourism’s never, ever seen what they’ve seen in terms of disaster in the economy, from travel, or the lack of travel,” said David Clark, chief executive of Visit Mobile.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who has pushed for a resumption of cruising, said he was happy the CDC had provided the industry with a roadmap for resuming business.

“The city of Mobile stands ready for the return of Carnival. All our full-time, part-time and contracted employees who interact with passengers on cruise days have already been vaccinated for COVID-19. Our team is prepared to welcome back cruisers safely and with enthusiasm,” he said in a statement.

Alabama is last in the nation in the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations. More than 525,000 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus that causes the illness, and more than 10,800 have died.