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.