Homer healthcare team recount Tustumena COVID response
Anticipation was high when the State Ferry Tustumena turned around in Dutch Harbor on Saturday and made a beeline back for Kodiak after a crew member was diagnosed with COVID-19, but when it pulled into Homer shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday, healthcare professionals were already prepared to test the remaining crew and the six passengers onboard.
During Thursday’s Covid Brief on KBBI, Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll and South Peninsula Hospital’s Derotha Ferraro discussed what happened after the Tusty arrived.
"So we kind of knew at that point the next step would be to team up with our partners, like South Peninsula Hospital, Section of Epidemiology, and of course, DOT, to conduct testing on all those folks. So that went really well,” Carroll said. “We were able to test all the folks on board. So we ran 40 tests thanks to South Peninsula Hospital, which ran those tests through the night.”
“When we first started this, all we did was swab and send to the state. And now we have actually three in-house, in the building of South Peninsula Hospital, we have three different platforms which we can run a COVID test on. Additionally, we can send swabs to the state,” Ferraro said, adding, “So we have four different options and each one has a kind of a different set of, um, priorities, for example, the state sent us a platform called a Cepheid and it does very reliable, pretty much immediate, turnaround results within an hour. But it was specifically given to us for critical infrastructure and fisheries.
“And that was the platform we used the night the ferry docked, the ferry arrived here, 8 o'clock, the swabbers went on board, within an hour they had all the swabs and by 7 a.m. the next morning every one of those swabs was completed. So that was the purpose of that platform. And that's what, that's how it was used,” she added.
“And the results were, six additional positives were identified and those were amongst all the crew, so in grand total, seven positive COVID tests came off of the folks on the Tustumena,” Carroll said.
And after those six additional positives were identified, Carroll said the task of contact tracing them all took even more help.
“We had to actually get assistance from public health nurses across the state. And so that was from Fairbanks clear to Juneau, to help us out with a couple of key components. One was to complete index case interviews on all positives as quickly as possible. And then to make a grand list of,” Carroll said. “Of significant contacts that may have been in close proximity to those folks that are positive. And what I, what I mean by close proximity is generally within six feet of a person who's known to have had COVID and for 10 minutes or longer.”
After the tests were completed and the passengers and crew notified on Tuesday, the passengers and some of the crew went home, while some unaffected crew members volunteered to stay aboard to help maintain the ship. They will be kept strictly apart from the seven infected individuals who will remain in isolation while supported by medical professionals.
The Tustumena won’t return to service until June 27, according to the latest from the Marine Highway office. In a press conference Monday, ferry system chief Capt. John Falvey said he did not plan on making any changes to the Tustumena’s Covid contingency plan, which was drawn up before it first set sail this season.