Maine Maritime Academy seniors will participate in a pier-side training exercise aboard the training ship State of Maine this summer. FILE PHOTO

Testing partnership makes way for MMA “cruise”

CASTINE — A partnership with The Jackson Laboratory and Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products is making it possible for graduating Maine Maritime Academy seniors to participate in a pier-side training exercise aboard the school’s training ship State of Maine.

In May, the academy’s leaders announced the normal summer training cruises would have to be canceled. But that left some senior engineering and navigation students, who still needed to accrue final hours of sea time and experience required by the U.S. Coast Guard in order to obtain their unlimited license credentials and their degrees, high and dry.

The academy received approval for the pier-side plan from the U.S. Coast Guard in late May and preparation for the “fast cruise” — as in held fast — is underway. A total of 60 students, faculty and ship’s crew will be double-tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding the ship.

Faculty and crew members were scheduled to begin testing on June 22. Testing for participating students will begin on July 2. The cruise officially begins on July 8 and will end Aug. 4. The cruise will be contained — with no one leaving or boarding — in order to maintain cordon sanitaire status throughout the six-week training period.

The tests will be conducted using specimen collection kits from Puritan Medical Products. The Jackson Laboratory will test the patient samples for the presence of the virus at its Connecticut CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-licensed and CAP-accredited laboratory, and the test results will be turned around within 24 hours.

That Connecticut laboratory facility had, until recently, focused on complex tumor profiling assays to help cancer patients and their clinicians learn more about specific tumors to try to identify the most appropriate treatment options for patients. When the pandemic hit, the nonprofit was quickly able to adapt its capabilities to now also test patient samples for a specific RNA signature unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Using Puritan medical products and with JAX protocol guidance and testing expertise, we can run this program safely so that our seniors can graduate and move on with their careers,” said MMA President William Brennan.

“We can also take this opportunity to get trained and practice the logistics of testing so that we can incorporate protocols into our operation in the fall as necessary.”

It was a serendipitous turn of events that brought the partnership about.

“I reconnected with Timothy Templet at Puritan, with whom I went to high school, and he introduced me to LuAnn Ballesteros, a member of the leadership team at JAX, and the details fell into place,” Brennan said.

“Now is the time to join together as a community to help one another,” said Edison Liu, president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory. “JAX is already collaborating with several Maine regional hospitals to provide testing for frontline health-care workers, for patients who are symptomatic for COVID-19 and those whose surgeries had been put on hold. We’re honored to now work with MMA and Puritan to ensure that the training of those entrusted with our maritime economy continues.”

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