Employee COVID-19 exposure triggers SSA terminal disinfection

Workers from Moran Environmental Recovery sanitize the Woods Hole terminal of the Steamship Authority Monday night. - George Brennan

Updated March 31

The Steamship Authority has hired a private environmental company to disinfect the Woods Hole terminal building after an employee disclosed being exposed to someone who was positive for COVID-19.

The ferry line will close the terminal building to the public Monday at 6:15 pm to facilitate the disinfection work. 

“The cleaning, which is being performed by Moran Environmental Recovery using hospital-grade disinfectants, is in response to an employee’s reported exposure to an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19,” SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll wrote in a statement Monday.  “Out of an abundance of caution, the temporary terminal building cleaning was ordered for the protection of the Authority’s customers and employees.”

Driscoll anticipated the terminal would reopen for the 6 am departure of the MV Woods Hole Tuesday and later said it did. “Everything went as planned last night,” he said Tuesday, “and the terminal opened this morning.”  

When asked why the terminal wasn’t closed immediately upon learning of the exposure, Driscoll said, “We don’t have anyone who tested positive or we would have reacted differently.” 

Asked if the Town of Falmouth was informed of the exposure, he said, “We don’t have anything to inform the town of.”

Falmouth health agent Scott McGann wasn’t immediately available for comment. 

Driscoll declined to say where the exposure occurred or when.

“The employee has not been at work since the report was made to us,” he said, and declined to say when the report was made. He also declined to comment on what methodology was used to determine only one person was exposed. 

Driscoll said the decision to disinfect the terminal was made by SSA general manager Robert Davis. Asked why SSA personnel weren’t used to disinfect the terminal and a private company was hired instead, Driscoll emailed that Davis opted for an outside vendor as “an extra layer of precaution due to the circumstance, as well as to give us an opportunity to view their work to see if our staff were following best practices. We were pleased to see that their procedure mirrored what our employees have been doing thus far on board the vessels, at the terminals and at other facilities.”

In a follow up statement, Driscoll noted the employee in question hasn’t returned to work “in accordance with our COVID-19 guidelines.”

Across the Sound at the Vineyard Haven terminal efforts to curb COVID-19 are ongoing. The SSA removed some of the benches inside the Vineyard Haven terminal building to better allow for social distancing. Also, distance indicators and a stop sign now mark the floor by the service counter in order to keep customers in line properly spaced. Those measures follow the posting of numerous notices inside the terminal, a banner on the ferry gangway, and an antiseptic towelette dispenser in the terminal building. Hand sanitizer dispensers are also in the terminal, but were present long before the advent of COVID-19. 

In what SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll described as an effort to “limit employee exposure,” a table has been set up in the Vineyard Haven terminal with stacks of excursion and preferred rate applications, along with a stack of schedules. On Friday, a lone pen rested on the table by the stacked paperwork in Vineyard Haven.

Asked if it was hygienic to have customers handling paper forms and using a single pen, Driscoll wrote that “the forms are disinfected before being sent to reservations.” The disinfection was done with Lysol and “time” he later specified. In a subsequent phone conversation he said “time” meant that the applications were left in a room for a period of time to allow any pathogenic contamination to fade. He did not indicate how that benefited the customers filling out the paperwork nor did he offer additional comment on the subject.