Another six crew members on the state ferry M/V Tustumena have tested positive for COVID-19 after a co-worker’s case was detected onboard Saturday.
The cases make up the first coronavirus outbreak among the ferries operated by the Alaska Marine Highway System. The outbreak occurred on the ferry as it made its first run of the season from Homer to Dutch Harbor, stopping at a number of smaller ports along the way. Ferry trips from Washington state haven’t started yet this season.
The Tustumena turned back for Homer on Saturday evening from Dutch Harbor, with six round-trip passengers and 35 crew aboard, including the infected woman. It arrived around 8 p.m. Monday.
After the vessel docked, staff from South Peninsula Hospital boarded to conduct testing. The 40 people who weren’t tested in Dutch Harbor were tested and results shared with them within an hour, state officials say.
The six passengers and 28 crew members tested negative, according to an update Tuesday.
The seven crew members who have tested positive will remain in isolation on the Tustumena, according to a statement Tuesday from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. The positive crew members are getting help from medical professionals.
The six passengers, and some crew who tested negative, left the vessel, according to the statement. They were allowed to return home if they could drive themselves and quarantine at home for 14 days.
They will continue to coordinate with the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, officials say.
No passengers or additional ferry employees are considered “close contacts” of the infected crew member, officials say. Some of the crew members with negative tests will stay on the Tustumena to help support vessel operations. They will remain separated from the infected crew members.
State officials say that, “out of an abundance of caution,” they recommend anyone on the Tustumena starting with the Homer departure last week follow the following guidance: Wear a mask/face covering in public; minimize exposure to others and maintain a 6-foot distance as able; self-monitor for symptoms and get a COVID-19 test if any arise; consider getting tested seven to 14 days after leaving the ship if no symptoms arise.
The first crew member tested positive in Dutch Harbor on Saturday evening after learning midday that before leaving Homer, she’d been in close contact with someone who tested positive. The crew member had some symptoms but no fever.
The ferry let passengers on in Dutch Harbor, but let them off again less than three hours later after discovering the positive test result.
State epidemiologists identified 16 ferry employees they considered close contacts. Of the six new positives, four were part of the 16 considered close contacts, and two were not.
The crew member who tested positive Saturday developed symptoms that were similar to a severe cold, the transportation department’s statement said. The additional six crew members who tested positive have experienced minor or no symptoms.
The Tustumena is expected to resume service June 27.
During that time, the vessel will be thoroughly sanitized, officials say. All passengers booked for now-canceled sailings are being notified.
Anyone with questions about reservations can visit ferryalaska.com or contact the AMHS reservation call center at 907-465-3941 or toll-free at 800-642-0066.
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