Updated Feb. 26
The likelihood a pathogen, first discovered in China and now poised to become a pandemic, may have traveled to Edgartown with Westerdam passengers Tom and Dianne Durawa increasingly appears remote. Holland America cast doubt on whether the sole passenger thought to have COVID-19, a.k.a. the coronavirus, actually contracted the virus, based on subsequent testing. USA Today recently reported the Centers for Disease Control haven’t found evidence the passenger harbored the virus. The passenger “never had coronavirus to our knowledge,” the the agency told USA Today.
“I have confirmed that all the passengers were tested, and they have come back negative for coronavirus, including the person who initially tested positive,” a CDC spokesperson told USA Today. That person “may have had a respiratory illness, but if she did, it was not COVID-19,” the spokesperson told USA Today.
The Durawas self-quarantined after returning home to Edgartown from Cambodia, where the Westerdam finally berthed following rejections by ports in several other countries. The Durawas, who told The Times they were screened getting off the cruise ship, declined further comment in an email.
Edgartown’s board of health has become the communication nexus for health matters related to the couple. Health agent Matt Poole remains in touch with the couple, Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said Monday. He pointed out Poole also remains in touch with on-call Massachusetts Department of Public Health epidemiologists.
Facts about the virus continue to be in flux; its incubation period, initially thought to be two weeks, has given way to longer periods in some instances. And the CDC reports it’s still unknown how long the pathogen can survive on an exposed surface. What is known is the virus can be contracted much as influenza is, and it continues to spread globally, and to take lives. A report by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, issued before the Durawas returned to the Island, listed among other precautions, “clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe,” and “avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.” Precautions notwithstanding, for the Vineyard, the potential danger from COVID-19 via the Westerdam appears to be fizzling.
“During the past 24 hours, there have been news reports that you may have seen,” Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford wrote in a memo dated Feb. 21. “Yesterday at a press conference in Malaysia, their deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, said that the former Westerdam guest who was previously identified as having tested positive ‘has been tested repeatedly, with the results showing that she is clear of the virus.’ Also yesterday a press release was issued quoting Cambodia’s Honorable Prime Minister Hun that the Cambodian government has ‘doubt’ over the accuracy of the initial health testing for the woman. He reiterated that ‘no viral infections have been found among the more than 2,000 passengers and crew of Westerdam.”
Steamship Authority has declined to indicate whether the Durawas crossed on one of their ferries. The ferry line hasn’t changed any of its policies in light of COVID-19, according to SSa spokesman Sean Driscoll. Asked if any changes might be in the works, Driscoll wrote,
“Not at this time; the SSA will follow state Department of Health and federal CDC guidelines regarding prevention and protocols.”
Driscoll added the SSA would implement screening measures if DPH or CDC made recommendations
As far as preventative measures crew and staffers are taking to hedge against possible infection, Driscoll emailed they were employing “[s]tandard best practices, including frequent hand washing, especially before eating and after using the restroom.” He also wrote,
“We are uploading flu prevention tips (which are the same as what are recommended in this matter) to our Learning Management System to communicate to our employees.”
As of Monday, there have been confirmed cases in 28 countries, including the U.S., Canada, and a surge in reported cases in Italy, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are 78,811 confirmed cases worldwide, and 17 deaths outside of China, where the outbreak started, WHO reported. China now has 2,445 deaths linked to coronavirus.
Updated to include presstime figures from World Health Organization. – Ed.