Trident Seafoods has reopened its Akutan, Alaska, processing plant after more than 40 percent of its workforce there contracted COVID-19.
According to a company press release, the plant resumed some processing on Friday, 19 February, almost a month after the plant ceased operations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which began with four positive cases but ballooned into a major outbreak. More than 115 workers who had been quarantined in Sand Point and Anchorage have returned to Akutan and resumed work on crab, cod, and pollock processing, the company said. Just two workers at the plant remain positive for COVID-19, and both are being isolated, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Akutan facility is Trident’s largest plant in Alaska and plays a major role in processing fish landed during the state’s pollock seasons, including the pollock A season, which began on 20 January.
In order to resume operations, the company conducted comprehensive testing, symptom screenings, has upped the use of PPE and distancing protocols, which it said will remain in place for the remainder of the season. Trident also said it had developed additional protocols in case there’s a recurrence of COVID-19 at the plant, including new shift schedules and capacity limits that reduce worker-to-worker contact.
“While these new measures are burdensome, we anticipate cooperation and understanding, given everyone’s eagerness to safely return to work,” Trident Government Relations and Seafood Sustainability Vice President Stefanie Moreland said. “The management team on site has been working to make sure these operational changes do not come as a surprise, and to ensure our employees know their safety is our priority.”
Within the past month, Trident also experienced COVID-19 outbreaks onboard its fishing vessels Kodiak Enterprise and Island Enterprise. The Kodiak Enterprise left Tacoma, Washington on 13 February to resume fishing, and the Island Enterprise has also resumed fishing, after leaving Seward, Alaska on 14 February, according to MarineTraffic.com.
Unalaska, nearby Akutan, has also been reeling due to a COVID-19 outbreak among its seafood processing sector. UniSea’s Unalaska fish processing plant reopened on Monday, 1 February after shutting down for nearly a month after 66 of its 900 employees tested positive for COVID-19. And Alyeska Seafoods has been dealing with an outbreak for the past month that remains uncontained – most of the 109 new cases reported in Unalaska on Thursday, 18 February have a link to the Alyeska facility, city officials confirmed to KTOO. Unalaska currently has 191 current active COVID-19 cases, 189 of which are industry-related.
“It is important for everyone to understand that many of the recent Industry Related cases have not been from persons in travel quarantine after arriving on island, but rather from folks who have received positive tests as local seafood processing facilities conduct surveillance testing of their workforce,” the city said in its most recent update. “We must assume that some of the people with positive tests have been out and about in the community, with multiple contacts.”
The city said contact tracing and community mitigation measures had partially contained the outbreak, but that the local risk for COVID-19 transmission was at its highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
“The community is most definitely at a high local risk factor for COVID-19, in fact, more serious than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” it said. “The vaccine provides hope, but vaccine supply has limited our ability to vaccinate everyone who wants to receive it. We ask everyone in town to do their part, working together, to protect themselves and protect each other from this highly contagious virus.”
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy recently declared seafood industry workers over 50 – even those from out-of-state – to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. The seafood industry has pushed for all of its workers to receive vaccines as soon as possible, arguing they are essential to ensuring the security of the country’s food supply.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency