Trump COVID-19 task force backs Alaska mandate for face masks at seafood processing facilities
The Trump administration’s coronavirus task force has recommended that Alaska mandate face masks, “especially [in] workplaces like seafood processing centers,” according to a 26 July federal report obtained by The New York Times.
Although Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has not required that masks be worn statewide, the state has mandated that seafood processing plant workers use face masks since 15 May. Though the average number of cases in Alaska per 100,000 people is lower than the national average – meriting Alaska’s status in the “yellow zone” – the top four COVID-19 outbreaks in the state have been linked to the seafood industry.
The four biggest outbreaks in the state include OBI Seafoods’ plant in Seward, where 139 of approximately 252 workers test positive for the virus. An outbreak aboard the American Triumph trawler, wherein 85 of around 119 workers tested positive for COVID-19, involved Seward as well – the vessel docked there so that infected workers could be shuttled to Anchorage for isolation care, according to the Anchorage Daily News. At Copper River Seafoods’ plant in Anchorage, 56 workers out of 135 tested positive this month, while 62 of some 150 workers at Alaska Glacier Seafoods in Juneau were found to have the virus.
The task force report also recommended that wide-scale testing be carried out in areas where there is an increased risk for disease transmission, such as among seafood workers, and that masks be worn in “population centers with high or increasing case counts,” which include Anchorage, Fairbanks North Star, and the Kenai Peninsula.
The state’s Department of Health and Social Service called the week of 19-25 July “Alaska’s worst week of the pandemic in terms of rapid increases in resident and nonresident new cases,” in a report released on Wednesday.
University of Alaska Anchorage Epidemiologist Thomas Hennessy, a former director of the Arctic Investigations Program at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, predicted that hospital capacity could become overrun by the beginning of September if infections continue to follow current trends.
“We have never been closer to exceeding our health care capacity,” Hennessy said.
According to a 30 July report from the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink intends to clarify Alaska’s requirements for face coverings, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum confirmed.
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