A photo of a seemingly-crowded cruise ship on Boston Harbor Saturday evening prompted questions on social media as Massachusetts officials continue to push social distancing practices to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The image showed the Provincetown II, a three-deck vessel run by the Bay State Cruise Company, preparing to depart for a 7 to 9:30 p.m. harbor cruise, according to the company.
“I have concerns with that many people that close, that we end up like some of the states down south,” said Rhode Island native Michael Williams.
But Michael Glasfield, a manager with Bay State Cruise Company, said in an email the cruise sailed at just 33-percent capacity, falling within the company’s COVID-19 operating limits of 44-percent capacity.
That level of capacity on the deck areas would provide 28 square feet per passenger, Glasfield said, meaning each person could be spread six feet apart if social distancing practices are adhered to and all passenger spaces on the ship are utilized.
Most passengers in the picture appeared to be congregated on the open-air top deck.
The partially-enclosed middle deck can exchange its volume of air in less than a minute when the ship moves at nine knots, according to Glasfeld, while the bottom deck is the most fully enclosed.
Iliana Valles, a passenger on a different Bay State boat Sunday afternoon, said the photo taken Saturday didn't reflect her experience.
“Everybody was wearing masks, the only people who weren’t were taking a snack or drink,” Valles said. “There was hand sanitizer everywhere, I felt safe.”
She added that the cruise line left seats open in between passengers and face coverings were required.
Bay State Cruise has set out a number of other measures in its control plan, including barriers at boarding lines, screens at serving counters, reduced sail times and nightly sanitization with anti-microbial spray machines. Hand sanitizer dispensers are to be set at doorways, common touch areas disinfected every 20 minutes and face masks provided to employees, to be worn when near passengers or other crew members.
The plan also emphasizes that employees should not report to work if they exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms, and will provide two weeks paid leave for employees to stay at home if they contract COVID-19.
The state labor office said all charter boat operators must adhere to issued mandates, including a 50-percent capacity restriction and specific protocols for social distancing, hygiene, staffing and operations, and cleaning and disinfecting.
Enforcement is a joint responsibility between the Department of Labor Standards (DLS), Department of Public Health, and local boards of health, according to the state labor office.
Members of the public can report non-compliance to the DLS through their hotline at 508-616-0461 (extension 9488), by completing this online form, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Massachusetts remains in Phase 3 for its reopening plan, during which employees and customers should remain at least six feet apart whenever possible, both inside and out of workplaces.
The state’s current guidelines for outdoor, unenclosed gatherings, have no specific limit on the number of guests.