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Six More Crew Members Test Positive For COVID-19 On M/V Tustumena

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Hope McKenney/KUCB
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Six more crew members aboard the M/V Tustumena have tested positive for COVID-19, state officials said Tuesday. That brings the total number of COVID-19 positive crew members on the Alaska Marine Highway System vessel to seven.

Over the weekend, a crew member on the state ferry tested positive for coronavirus in Unalaska after showing mild symptoms, just hours after the vessel arrived on the island. 

The Tustumena returned to Homer late Monday with 41 people on board — including six passengers and the isolated COVID-19 positive crew member. Upon arrival, staff from Homer's hospital boarded the ship and tested everyone on board. 

The additional crew members that tested positive have experienced minor or no symptoms, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said in a statement. They will remain in isolation aboard the Tustumena.

"The six passengers, and some of the crewmembers who tested negative have left the vessel and are returning home if they have private transportation and can appropriately self-monitor and quarantine at home for 14 days," the statement said. 

DOT says an unspecified number of crew members would remain on board to keep the ship running. However, positive and negative crew would remain in separate areas of the 296-foot ship.

Meadow Bailey, communications director for the DOT, said the AMHS will not be adjusting its current protocols at this time. 

"It's still early. The protocols in place are really to minimize the transmission [of COVID-19], so we have been working with the Department of Health and Social Services and continue to work with them. Whatever guidance and advice they have, if they feel like we need to make some adjustments, we'll do that moving forward," said Bailey. "But we'll wait to see over the next couple of days and couple of weeks, if there end up being additional positives." 

State health officials had originally said they'd identified 16 marine highway employees as close contacts of the initial COVID-19 case on board. Of the six testing positive, four were part of that group, while two were not. 

Officials recommend anyone recently aboard the Tustumena to wear a mask in public, avoid contact with others, and get tested for COVID-19 within the next two weeks. 

Despite the new positive case count, Bailey said the DOT still plans to move forward with its updated Tustumena sailing schedule. 

"At this point, the goal is to move forward with service on June 27," said Bailey. "What that'll look like exactly — like if there will be adjustments to protocol — we'll communicate that as we get closer."

 

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