Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health is asking anyone who travelled on the Blue Puttees ferry to or from Nova Scotia and Port aux Basques between Dec. 29 and Jan. 16 to call 811 to arrange for COVID-19 testing.
The request comes on the heels of a crewmember testing positive for the disease.
Marine Atlantic said Wednesday it’s the first such case it has had to deal with since the pandemic began.
“We have been in contact with public health officials in Nova Scotia and with Marine Atlantic occupational health and safety, and are coordinating a response,” Newfoundland’s chief medical officer of health told reporters.
“We’d like to indicate that the risk is low for these people, but we are doing this out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said.
Testing can also be arranged by completing the online assessment tool at covidassessment.nichi.nl.ca.
Fitzgerald would give no further details about the case because of privacy concerns.
However, a Marine Atlantic spokesperson said it’s clear the crewmember contracted the disease on board because he only developed symptoms after leaving his two-week shift. The incubation window for COVID-19 is 14 days.
Fitzpatrick said the risk is low for passengers because there are fewer spaces for people to intermingle on board.
“Marine Atlantic certainly has put a lot of protocols in place since the beginning of the pandemic to reduce the amount of interaction that their staff and the passengers will have,” she said. “They’ve certainly got masking protocols and all of that as well, and they’ve reduced common spaces.”
Hundreds of passengers
When contacted, the Marine Atlantic spokesperson didn’t have specific details on the number of passengers who have travelled on the ferry during the timeframe in question, but said it would be in the hundreds.
He said on one recent crossing, there were about 10 regular passengers and 50 commercial passengers, but those numbers vary day by day.
The Public Health Authority in Nova Scotia has already started contact tracing of crewmembers, although Fitzgerald said any contact tracing that involves this province will be conducted by local public health officials. Crewmembers must self-isolate on the ferry after the testing.
With the Blue Puttees moored indefinitely, Marine Atlantic cancelled its morning crossing from North Sydney, N.S., to Port aux Basques and Wednesday evening’s crossing from Newfoundland to Cape Breton.
The company says the MV Highlanders will remain in service, and the MV Atlantic Vision is currently being prepared to enter service should it be required in the days ahead.
The Atlantic Vision has been moored in North Sidney on standby, but it may take up to 48 hours to establish a crew and get it into service.
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health for the Telegram.