Following COVID-19 outbreak, Alaska Marine Highway will require screenings and face masks

The Alaska Marine Highway System. (Photo by Gillfoto/Wikimedia Commons

The Alaska Marine Highway System announced today that it will require anyone travelling aboard its fleet to wear face masks and undergo screenings for COVID-19.

The state’s ferry system had not required face masks before an outbreak aboard the M/V Tustumena forced the ship to return to port earlier this month, leading to the infection of seven of the vessel’s 34 crewmembers. No passengers had tested positive in that outbreak.

In addition to requiring face masks for anyone over the age of 2, the system also announced that it will require passengers on the mainline ferries Kennicott, Matanuska and Tustemena to have negative test results from within 72 hours of boarding. Passengers on the day vessels LeConte and Lituya will have to complete a screening form before being permitted to board.

“The safety of passengers and crew is the highest priority for the Alaska Marine Highway System. AMHS continues to work closely with Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to establish protocols intended to protect everyone during sailings, especially sailings that are longer in duration,” said the Alaska Department of Transportation in a news release today.

As Alaska has pushed to reopen, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has been reluctant to require face masks in any setting though he and public health officials have strongly recommended they be used. Since reopening, Alaska has seen its highest rate of new infections of the duration of the pandemic.

As of today, Alaska has reported 761 cases of COVID-19 in Alaska residents and an additional 110 non-resident cases. Alaska’s ICU bed capacity is nearly half-full, according to the state, and 12 people have died from COVID-19.

Several legislators and more than 200 public health workers have called on the governor to mandate face masks at businesses and workplaces where social distancing isn’t realistically feasible.

“We are concerned about the recent and rapid increase in COVID-19 case counts in Alaska,” the group of health care workers said in a letter earlier this month. “We want a healthy and robust economy in Alaska, and a healthy economy needs healthy consumers and workers. More consumers will feel safe patronizing businesses when they know the risk of infection is reduced. In the absence of mandated masking, many Alaskans will continue to shelter in place rather than risk infection. We also want to avoid another lock-down, which would further harm the economy.”

The full list of ferry system updates is as follows:

  • All passengers (over the age of 2) on the mainline ferries Kennicott, Matanuska and Tustumena are required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours before boarding.
  • All passengers on the day vessels LeConte and Lituya must complete a Passenger Screening Formbefore boarding. They must respond “no” to all questions.
  • All passengers boarding in Bellingham, Washington must complete the mandatory State of Alaska Travel Declaration Formand provide these to AMHS crew at boarding. AMHS passengers must be able to select #1 (a) on the declaration form.
  • All passengers (over the age of 2) and crew are required to wear face coverings while onboard mainline vessels Kennicott, Matanuska and Tustumena, except when in a stateroom, in a designated smoking area or while eating. Accommodations will be made for passengers who are unable to wear a face covering due to medical conditions.
  • All passengers (over the age of 2) and crew are required to wear face coverings while onboard the day vessels LeConte and Lituya, except when in a designated smoking area or while eating. Accommodations will be made for passengers who are unable to wear a face covering due to medical conditions.
  • Passengers and crew will not be allowed to go ashore during port calls. Passengers will be allowed ashore only upon arrival at their destination port.
  • All passengers and crew will practice social distancing.

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2 Comments on "Following COVID-19 outbreak, Alaska Marine Highway will require screenings and face masks"

  1. This policy is ludicrous. I don’t say this because I don’t think we should get tests–I do. I say the policy is ludicrous because the State of Alaska still hasn’t met a standard of providing tests to make this requirement work.
    I live in Anchorage and called 5+ clinics and drove to one to ask questions. Not one clinic I spoke with can provide tests in a guaranteed 72 hour window. One clinic touts results in hours, but they are out of tests and they said they must wait for the state to give them more. They had no idea how/when that would happen–it could be days or it could be weeks. I imagine Alaskans in smaller communities are having less luck than I am in finding a testing site that will accomplish the goal of a negative test in a 72 hour window.
    Ferries are only running once a week in many communities, so missing a ferry because of the lack of a test means no travel.
    To compound my personal issue, I’m supposed to catch the ferry on July 5th. This would mean a clinic would have to be able to process my test over a holiday weekend. Something tells me my chances of getting my results in time will be very small.
    One has to wonder what background work the AMHS did to see if this policy would work before they implemented it. Did they contact any clinics to ensure Alaskans can find a test? Did they publicize where those clinics are? (No they didn’t.)
    I found out about the policy on Facebook. The AMHS has never contacted me via email (they have my address, because they emailed me my ticket) to let me know of the policy. I hope other travelers are watching the news or reading blogs and Facebook, otherwise they will get to their ferry and not be able to get on because they were not alerted to the new requirements.
    I would like to reiterate–I’m happy to get a test. I don’t want to ride with others who are sick nor do I want to get anyone sick. However, until the state can provide enough tests for Alaskans, these policies don’t work. They should probably cancel the runs so they aren’t running empty ferries across the state. The number of Alaskans who will be able to comply will be so small that I can’t imagine the ferry runs are feasible.
    I contacted the Alaska State DOT but have yet to hear back any solutions from management.

  2. Update: Right after I posted this, the AMHS changed the policy for short day trips. I guess they were listening after all. (Although they didn’t send me the info to answer my email–I got it from a friend.)

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