A ferry pulls away from the dock in Mukilteo last Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A ferry pulls away from the dock in Mukilteo last Friday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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COVID hits ferry workers; Everett firefighters quarantined

Those infected did not work in passenger areas. Reduced service is likely due to crew shortages.

MUKILTEO — Several employees on the busy Mukilteo-Clinton ferry route have tested positive for COVID-19 and 13 Everett firefighters are under quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

Officials from both agencies said the public should not have much to worry about.

“They predominantly work in a non-public area,” Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said. “Their regular work is not in the passenger cabin, but that doesn’t mean they don’t transit through there.”

He said three or four workers are infected. He could not comment on their conditions for privacy reasons.

The agency is following health authority guidelines in terms of testing other workers. Those with positive tests will be out for at least a couple weeks, Sterling said.

The ferry system has been scrambling to staff all routes due to challenges during the pandemic with an older, at-risk workforce.

The Mukilteo-Clinton route, the busiest in terms of vehicle traffic, was reduced from two boats to one on Sunday for the second straight weekend. This was not directly related to the new COVID-19 cases, Sterling said.

“One person can keep a vessel from sailing. We sail in the bare minimum allowed to satisfy the Coast Guard requirements,” he said.

Loudspeakers on all routes encourage people to stay in their cars. Galleys are closed but restrooms are open.

Traffic surges on weekends with riders coming to the islands and crossing Puget Sound for recreational purposes.

“It is supposed to be essential travel only,” Sterling said. “This should be a reminder that maybe it’s not a good idea to travel now. We want to keep our employees safe and our passengers safe.”

The ferries are necessary to take commuters to essential jobs and for emergency medical transport, he said.

Frontline ferry workers are at risk for contracting the virus.

“We had a worker on Colman Dock on the terminal side pass away from complications due to COVID,” Sterling said of the routes serving Seattle.

Sterling did not know if ferry travel between Mukilteo and Whidbey Island would be affected this week.

“There’s a good chance of it,” he said.

On Father’s Day weekend, ferry service was reduced both days and on the Edmonds-Kingston route one day due to crew shortages. Waits were multiple hours.

Meanwhile, Everett city officials on Tuesday evening said 10 firefighters were placed in quarantine at their homes over the weekend after a co-worker became ill following their work shift. The firefighter sought medical attention for his illness, and tested positive for COVID-19. It is unknown where the ill firefighter contracted the virus.

Three other firefighters are also in quarantine due to separate exposures to individuals with known COVID-19 infections.

All 13 crew members will be quarantined at their homes for the incubation period of the coronavirus, which is 14 days from the date of exposure. The fire department will monitor their condition for any symptoms of COVID-19.

“There is no cause for alarm to the public,” the city statement said.

All firefighters are required to follow a high-level Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocol during any medical call or interaction with the public, which includes wearing an N-95 mask or respirator, eye goggles or face shield, a protective gown and gloves. Additionally, deep cleaning and decontamination measures are in place for the fire apparatus and stations.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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