The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in 2010. (Homer News File)

The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in 2010. (Homer News File)

Ferry crew, passengers must undergo COVID-19 testing

Forty-one crew members and passengers of an Alaska state ferry will undergo testing for COVID-19.

  • Monday, June 8, 2020 7:15pm
  • News

By MARK THIESSEN

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — Forty-one crew members and passengers of an Alaska state ferry will undergo testing for COVID-19 before disembarking the Tustumena in Homer later Monday after another crew member tested positive over the weekend.

The crew member on the 198-foot ferry began exhibiting symptom and tested positive Saturday in Dutch Harbor.

The ferry set sail for Homer that night after 21 passengers who boarded in Dutch Harbor were put back ashore. No other tests on crew members or passengers were conducted on Saturday.

In all, 35 crew members and six passengers were to undergo testing in Homer, state officials said Monday during a news conference.

“No one goes ashore until I say so,” John Falvey, the Alaska Marine Highway System general manager, said.

Officials said 16 crew members had close contact with the ferry employee who tested positive. All but one remained on the ship and were in self-isolation. The other person who had close contact left the vessel at the end of a shift, but has been contacted and instructed to self-quarantine. Public health officials in that person’s home jurisdiction are monitoring.

Crew members and passengers will be free to leave the ferry while waiting for test results if they head home or to their final destination where they can quarantine for 14 days. They must also take private transportation to that location, and they cannot expose new individuals, like a cab driver, in getting to their final destination.

All the passengers were Alaska residents, officials said.

Crew members or passengers who do not meet that criteria or have to take public transportation back to their homes, such as an airplane, will be advised to stay on board the ferry. It wasn’t immediately clear how long the ferry would be out of service. Falvey said a commercial crew might be employed to thoroughly clean the Tustumena.

Officials declined to identify the employee or detail her work aboard the ferry. However, state health officials stressed that from their contact investigation, the employee did not have close contact with passengers.

The crew member exhibited most COVID-19 symptoms including a runny nose and a cough but did not have a fever, Falvey said.

It appears she was exposed by another Alaska Marine Highway System employee who lives in Homer but has not worked for months, he said.

The state of Alaska is advising anyone who sailed on the Tustumena since June 1 to wear a mask, practice social distancing, check themselves twice daily for symptoms, and get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms do arise, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist.

He said even if they don’t have symptoms, they should consider getting tested seven to 14 days after leaving the ship.

The Tustumena sails from Homer to Kodiak, and down the Aleutian chain. On its way back, it stops in Dutch Harbor, one of the world’s busiest fishing ports. The ship normally can carry up to 190 passengers, but its capacity has been reduced to 60 passengers to help with social distancing.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

• This is an Associated Press report.

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