MV LeConte docks at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal with the MV Tazlina in the background on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. A crew member who recently finished a shift aboard the LeConte tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced Monday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

MV LeConte docks at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal with the MV Tazlina in the background on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. A crew member who recently finished a shift aboard the LeConte tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced Monday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Now home, AMHS crew member tests positive for COVID-19

All current crew tests came back negative, DOT says

An Alaska Marine Highway System crew member tested positive after returning home from a two-week shift aboard the MV LeConte, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced Monday.

No close contacts were identified on the vessel or in Juneau, DOT said in a news release, and there are no specific testing or quarantine recommendations for passengers or crew at this time.

The crew member ended their most-recent shift in late July, DOT spokesman Sam Dapcevich told the Empire Monday but declined to give exact dates in order to protect the person’s privacy. The LeConte’s entire crew was tested in Juneau on Saturday, and by early Sunday morning all results had come back negative, Dapcevich said.

DOT coordinated with Bartlett Regional Hospital and the City and Borough of Juneau’s emergency operations command to facilitate the testing of the crew. The previous crew, who begin their next two-week shift Aug. 14, are currently undergoing testing. Crew members are regularly tested between shifts anyway, DOT said, and must show negative test results seven days before reporting for work.

[New AMHS rule denied some Hoonah residents their trip home]

The LeConte was stilled docked in Juneau Monday morning, having missed a Sunday voyage to Haines because the crew was up “into the wee hours with testing Sunday,” Dapcevich said. A Monday voyage to Pelican was delayed due to weather, he said, but the LeConte should resume its normal schedule Wednesday.

DOT has introduced health guidelines for AMHS passengers and reduced the overall number of travelers allowed on voyages in order to allow for greater social distancing, Dapcevich said. Masks are required in most areas of AMHS ships, he said, but there are areas such as staterooms, eating areas and open-air/smoking areas where masking is not required. The LeConte doesn’t have staterooms, Dapcevich said, but it does have a cafeteria and open-air areas.

Dapcevich said he was unaware of the crew member’s current condition and referred the Empire to the Department of Health and Social Services. DHSS did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The positive case aboard the LeConte is causing some concern in at least one community serviced by the vessel. Hearing of a positive case associated with the ship motivated Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen Sr. to introduce a mask ordinance for the town, he said. Speaking to the Empire by phone Monday, Bowen said he tried to avoid a mandate, but this incident had convinced him of the need.

“I’ve already received a couple calls this morning saying we should lock down travel again,” he said.

[Ferry work group says $24M subsidy insufficient]

The Angoon City Council will discuss the LeConte at its Wednesday meeting according to Bowen. The city is working with the Angoon Community Association, a local tribal entity, on various measures dealing with the pandemic, Bowen said, including highering local screeners for arrivals.

The state reported 70 new COVID-19 cases Monday, all but one of which were from Alaska residents. According to CBJ’s COVID-19 data website, there were 21 active cases in Juneau and one COVID-19 patient currently hospitalized. Statewide there are 26 patients hospitalized for COVID-19, according to state data.

“We know COVID present in the community,” EOC planning section chief Robert Barr told the Empire Monday. “We know there is some level of community transmission, we have no reason to believe it’s not.”

The city had volunteers handing out cloth face masks Thursday and Friday, Barr said. They distributed about 7,900 masks over both days as part of the city’s effort to encourage people to wear masks while in public. The CBJ Assembly passed a mask mandate July 21 requiring cloth face coverings while in indoor public settings.

“It’s really important people wear masks whenever they can’t appropriately distance from others,” he said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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