Last night, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) alerted the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) that a recent passenger tested positive for COVID-19.
DHSS conducted extensive contact tracing and determined that the only other person considered to be a close contact was a traveling companion. No one else aboard the vessel was found to have been in close contact with the passenger who tested positive. The passenger and traveling companion had private sleeping quarters and whenever they were outside of their cabin, wore face coverings and kept 6 feet from others at all times during their time aboard.
AMHS requires all passengers and crew to follow protocols to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Protocols include testing before departure on lengthy sailings, mandatory face coverings, social distancing, limiting the number of passengers permitted on the vessels and frequent and thorough cleaning of vessels. These protocols are detailed here.
“We understand the importance of following the COVID-19 mitigation protocols to protect the health and safety of all aboard our vessels,” said John MacKinnon, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. “I commend the crew and passengers who were diligent in wearing masks and practicing social distancing -- it truly makes a difference.”
It is unknown when and where the passenger became infected, or when the passenger became contagious. The passenger had a negative COVID-19 test before departing on the M/V Kennicott from Bellingham June 27. Testing is a helpful tool for diagnosing COVID-19, but is not perfect. For example, people often will not test positive for several days after they are initially infected. This is why it is important to continue practicing social distancing and wearing a mask even if you have had a recent negative test.
Following AMHS guidelines, the passenger remained on board until their final destination in Whittier. The passenger and traveling companion then reboarded the vessel on a new sailing from Whittier to Cordova July 3. The subsequent positive test was a result of testing available for new arrivals in Cordova. The passenger is identified as a nonresident in the Valdez-Cordova census area in DHSS case counts. Both the passenger and their traveling companion are isolated and not having contact with anyone else.
“This is an example of everyone doing everything right,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer for Alaska. “But this is a sneaky virus and travel is inherently risky during a global pandemic.”
The infected passenger had very mild “allergy-like” symptoms that they did not attribute to COVID-19. This is an important reminder that people can be asymptomatic or only have very mild symptoms and still be infected. It is important to keep in mind the full range of symptoms identified by the CDC.
DHSS offers the following recommendations to recent travelers on the M/V Kennicott:
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities oversees 237 airports, 9 ferries serving 35 communities along 3,500 marine miles, over 5,600 miles of highway and 839 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. The mission of the department is to “Keep Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.”
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