Alaska state ferry out of service after crew tests positive for Coronavirus

   June 8, 2020 ,   Accidents

The Alaska state ferry MV Tustumena is now out of service with some passengers and crew in isolation after a crew tested COVID-positive Saturday evening, June 6, in Dutch Harbor.

The case was discovered after the ship visited Aleutian Island on her first cruise of the season from Port Homer. The vessel let travelers off Saturday morning. 6 of them stayed onboard for the return sailing to Homer.

The situation marks the first Coronavirus case on Alaska's ferry system. Currently, public-health workers are tracing the infected crew contacts to see who else might have been exposed, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities revealed. Officials said the crew member was a female Alaska resident from Homer.

The state Division of Public Health identified 16 close contacts, all of which crew members, state officials said. The infected crew reportedly did not come into contact with travelers. It was not immediately clear if the other crew identified as close contacts had contact with travelers.

The ferry left Homer on Tuesday and made calls at a string of communities on Kodiak Island as well as down the Alaska Peninsula prior to arriving in Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands on Saturday.

MV Tustumena, part of Alaska Marine Highway System, had 35 crew members, the department said, and 60 passengers onboard at any given time during the sailing. There are 41 people onboard the ferry (35 crew and 6 round-trip travelers) as it sails back to Homer.

As of Sunday afternoon, no crew had reported COVID-19 symptoms. Upon arrival at Homer, everyone will be tested.

According to the Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey, the crew member had come in contact with the person in Homer and developed symptoms after the ship left the community on Tuesday.

The symptoms were "very mild" and did not concern the crew member until she learned she had contact with someone who had tested positive, Bailey said. Other crew members were not aware their coworker was sick.

The ship arrived in Dutch Harbor, part of Unalaska city, at around 9:30 am.

Early Saturday afternoon, the crew got word the person she had close contact with had tested positive for COVID-19, Bailey said. The woman immediately notified the captain of the ship, who in turn notified Alaska Marine Highway System leadership.

A rapid test was conducted at about 5 PM and came back positive at 6 PM. Medical personnel also screened the 6 passengers who stayed on board for the return sailing to Homer. All crew stayed onboard when the ship got to Dutch Harbor.

21 passengers boarded in Dutch Harbor at 4:15 PM on Saturday and disembarked at approximately 7 PM, according to Bailey. The passengers were told to self-monitor for Coronavirus symptoms.

About 1 hour later, and 1 hour after the scheduled departure time, everyone onboard was called into the ship's lounge where the captain informed them of the situation and passengers got off.

The crew member was immediately isolated.

On the trip back, the ferry was operated by "essential crew". Other crew members and 6 passengers were self-quarantined, state transportation officials said. No additional calls will be made along the way.

Of the 16 crew members requiring quarantine, 9 were considered by the captain of the ship to be essential to sail MV Tustumena per her certificate requirements.

For Coronavirus updates on cruise ship quarantines (infected passengers and crew) and top-pandemic countries (COVID-19 cases and deaths, daily updated statistics) see at CruiseMapper's COVID page.