Ferry schedule tightens further, but some hope in horizon

“We don’t make these decisions lightly,” said Amy Scarton, head of Washington State Ferries.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) will extend their winter sailing schedules across all routes through at least June 20 as part of a broader response to COVID-19.

WSF’s spring season, which was poised to include increased service on some routes, was originally scheduled to begin on March 29. The triangle route — Fauntleroy/Vashon/Southworth — was set to receive a third vessel added on the weekend schedule as part of the spring schedule adjustment, but that will not occur through June 20.

Meanwhile, Washington State Ferries’ central Puget Sound routes, including the triangle route, will continue to operate on a reduced schedule. Those service reductions began on Sunday, March 29, and will remain in place through at least April 25.

The service reductions are attributed to a significant decrease in ridership and the limited availability of sufficient crew personnel to meet federal requirements.

“We know schedule changes affect many people and we don’t make these decisions lightly,” said Amy Scarton, head of WSF, in a press release. “But following discussions with health authorities and state officials, we had to make this difficult decision in order to help slow the spread of the virus while still preserving some service options.”

Recent system-wide ridership has been down about 75% compared to the last week of February according to the press release. Walk-on passengers have decreased more than 90 percent, while the number of vehicles carried has dropped nearly 65 percent.

But elsewhere there was a glimmer of hope that restrictions on movement were having a positive effect on containing the virus.

On Monday, researchers announced findings in the scholarly journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that suggest public policies encouraging social distancing practices correlated with a reduction in the spread of the virus in four major cities, including Seattle.

“This analysis reinforces other recent studies that show people in our community are heeding public health directives to stay home and the spread of COVID-19 is slowing,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County in a press release. “But before we can feel comfortable relaxing social distancing measures, we need to further decrease transmission and have widespread testing availability and public health systems in place to quickly identify people who are infected and their close contacts to help them isolate and quarantine.”

On Monday, public health reported 123 new cases for a total of 4,549 with four new deaths. There are currently four positive cases on Vashon.