Passengers on Alaska’s mainline ferries are now being required to get a COVID-19 test before traveling and wear masks on board.
The Alaska Marine Highway System announced the new protocols Sunday, which it says will protect against the spread of coronavirus on its vessels.
With some exceptions, passengers 2 years and older will be required to cover their faces. Passengers on shorter-haul voyages aboard the LeConte and Lituya will be asked to sign a screening form attesting they’ve had no symptoms nor have traveled to an infected area without social distancing.
But the testing requirement – which mirrors rules for visitors arriving from outside Alaska – will be in force on the fleet’s mainliner ships: Kennicott, Matanuska and Tustumena – even for short trips.
Passengers will have to show evidence of a negative test from within 72 hours before being allowed to travel. Passengers and crew will also not be allowed on shore during port calls and will only disembark at their final destination.
Alaska’s ferry link with the Lower 48 is scheduled to resume Thursday with a return voyage from Ketchikan to Bellingham. Passengers are being notified of the new testing rule, though it can take several days for COVID-19 results to be processed.
“We understand that testing can be a challenge, but for the safety of crew and passengers it is really important that we do everything possible to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey wrote in a statement to CoastAlaska. “If we have one positive person on board, vessels and crews have to be pulled out of service. In addition to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, we also need to have a dependable system.”
Earlier this month seven crew members tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the Tustumena during a run to and from the Aleutians.
All sailings of the Tustumena have been cancelled through July 2.
The announcement reverses an earlier policy that didn’t require masks of its passenger and crew on state ferries.
The marine highway began running ferries at reduced capacity it says to allow social distancing on board. The policy wasn’t announced in advance and some passengers reported being denied tickets and turned away.
Editors’ Note: This story has been updated with a statement from DOT’s spokesperson.