A third Steamship Authority employee in the past four days has tested positive for Covid-19, causing reverberations throughout the entire ferry service as it scrambles to test crew members en-masse, cancel dozens of trips and shut down reservations through the normally busy Labor Day weekend.

In a press release that went out Monday afternoon, the SSA announced that an employee who worked on the Nantucket route last Friday had tested positive for the virus. The individual last worked on the ferry Woods Hole, which was servicing Nantucket, on a shift that ended Friday, August 28 at 11:30 p.m.

The individual worked on the same shift as an employee who tested positive for the virus Saturday, according to the press release. The individual who tested positive Saturday had also worked on the freight ferry Governor earlier in the morning. The Governor only plies the Vineyard route.

Steamship Authority spokesman Sean Driscoll said in an interview with the Gazette Monday that both individuals were tested for the virus over the weekend. One received results Saturday evening; the other received results on Monday. Mr. Driscoll said neither employee worked after receiving their Covid test, although he said that the employee who tested positive on Saturday did work earlier Saturday morning, before getting tested.

A third boat line employee had previously tested positive for the virus on Friday. That employee last worked on a shift for the ferry Woods Hole that ended Wednesday, August 26 in Hyannis.

All three employees who tested positive were customer-facing staff who worked on the vessels, Mr. Driscoll said, but later clarified that the employees were unlikely to have prolonged contact with the public considering their roles on the ship.

"Their duties did not bring them into prolonged contact with the public," Mr. Driscoll said.

He also said despite the fact that two of the employees worked the same shift, the boat line did not know whether the cases were linked to one another.

“We have no idea how the transmission occurred,” Mr. Driscoll said.

Six customer-facing employees have now tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to Mr. Driscoll, including the three recent cases. Mr. Driscoll said the boat line disclosed the results of the tests because they work with passengers either at ticket offices or on the vessels, although their identity and position is being kept private to protect confidentiality.

The recent spate of cases among crew has forced the boat line to test approximately 30 additional employees for the virus. According to Mr. Driscoll, those employees were selected by the SSA for testing because they had worked on a shift with one or more of the three employees who have tested positive for the virus in the past week.

The employees underwent the testing at Cape Cod Hospital on Monday. According to the press release, results will take three to four days. Mr. Driscoll said the employees would not be working in the interim.

But the lack of manpower for at least three days has wreaked havoc on ferry schedules for the entire week, as it is forced to reshuffle vessels and temporarily shut down its reservation system to compensate for “reduced manning capabilities,” according to Mr. Driscoll.

The complicated vessel switches include shifting the Woods Hole, which was running on the Nantucket route, to the Vineyard route. The Governor will be taken off line and berthed in Woods Hole. And the freight ferry Sankaty, which was servicing the Vineyard route, will be switched to the Nantucket route.

Due to the vessel reshuffle, the SSA has cancelled all of its regularly scheduled trips for the Sankaty on the Vineyard route through Friday, as well as the last three regularly scheduled trips on the Governor.

The Sankaty generally runs three to four round trips between Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven daily, starting at 6:45 a.m. and finishing around 4 p.m. The last three trips the Governor would normally make are its 2:50 p.m., 5:20 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. trips that leave Woods Hole, and its 4:05 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. trips that leave Vineyard Haven.

The Woods Hole underwent a professional cleaning on Sunday morning, according to Mr. Driscoll. But he said it was the lack of staffing that was causing the trip cancellations; not the cleaning protocols.

“The boat cleaning is an hourlong process,” Mr. Driscoll said. “It has everything to do with a crewing issue.”

The SSA has also shut down reservations for Wednesday, Sept. 2 through Tuesday, Sept. 8 — a time period that includes Labor Day weekend. Reservations are currently available for Monday, August 31 and Tuesday, Sept. 1. But the reservation freeze signals that further changes could come to the boat line’s schedule, especially as it awaits the tests from its 30 contact-traced employees.

“Reservation activity remains on hold for trips from Sept. 2-8 as staff continue to assess the schedule and any changes that may need to be made,” the press release states.

Labor Day weekend normally sees a large exodus of summer travelers from the Vineyard, providing much-needed business for the ferry line before traffic ticks down in the fall season. The SSA is currently facing a projected $25 million operating deficit this year, and spent much of the spring and summer attempting to recoup losses caused by the pandemic.

Mr. Driscoll said while the boat line was focused on ensuring the health and safety of its passengers and crew, the timing of the cases and trip cancellations was rough for a ferry service that has already lost out on many of its busiest weekends of the year.

“There’s never a great time for an employee to get sick with a deadly disease, so that’s our first priority,” Mr. Driscoll said. “But that being said, the timing right now is particularly challenging.”