Pacific reopens some plants after COVID-19 outbreak; Icicle reports new cases in Alaska

Published on
June 12, 2020

Pacific Seafood has reopened some of its five facilities in Newport, Oregon, U.S.A., that were hit by a coronavirus outbreak last week, with 132 of its workers testing positive for COVID-19.

The Pacific Surimi and Pacific Bio plants reopened in a limited capacity on Wednesday, 10 June, according to Pacific Seafood General Counsel Tony Dal Ponte. Pacific Fillet restarted some operations on Thursday, 11 June, and the Pacific Whiting and Pacific Shrimp facility remain closed, Dal Ponte said.

“Pacific Shrimp, Pacific Whiting, and Pacific Fillet contract with a temporary staffing company, whose employees are all local to the Lincoln County area. Those locations had by far the highest incidence of positive COVID-19 tests. Pacific Surimi and Pacific Bio do not use temporary staffing services, and instead rely on returning seasonal workers who live out of state for parts of the year.  Many of those workers return year after year, and some have been returning to Newport for more than 10 years,” Dal Ponte told SeafoodSource. “The Pacific Surimi and Pacific Bio locations were the least impacted by the recent COVID cluster, with 10 positive test results.”

Each of Pacific’s Newport facilities underwent a deep-cleaning on Friday, 5 June. Earlier this week, representatives of the Oregon Health Authority, Lincoln County Public Health and the Oregon Department of Agriculture conducted a detailed site visit of the surimi and bio plants, and gave their go-ahead to Pacific to reopen, Dal Ponte said.

“All team members returning to work tested negative for COVID-19,” he said. “As operations re-open, we will continue to work closely with local and state partners and implement proactive preventative measures consistent with CDC guidance including temperature checks, health screening questions, face masks, face shields, expanded physical distancing, and increased sanitation protocols.”

Since the outbreak, Pacific has added more physical dividers and improved the spacing of its work stations and seats in the break rooms of its facilities, according to Dal Ponte.

“We’re doing everything reasonably possible to ensure the continued health and safety of our team members, families, and communities as we collectively navigate this global issue,” he said. “We continue to work closely with our local and state partners to implement proactive preventative measures consistent with the latest CDC guidance and industry best practices.”

Additional reporting of test results delayed by the testing company having to verify employees’ registration information has brought the total number of positive COVID-19 tests of workers in its Newport facilities to 132, including five employees who had been off of work during the outbreak. Of that total, 95 percent did not exhibit any symptoms of the virus before they tested positive, Dal Ponte said.

The company engaged in initial contact tracing for its employees and has the state’s health authorities are now following up with additional phone calls, Dal Ponte said.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, seven employees of Icicle Seafoods have tested positive for COVID-19. The employees worked in Icicle’s shore-based bunkhouse facility in Unalaska, Icicle Seafoods owner Cooke Inc. 

“Upon learning of the positive cases, Icicle immediately enacted the company isolation protocol for the employees as well as cleaning and sanitation protocol as per the company Community and Workforce Protective Plan,” the company said in a press release. “COVID-19 testing is being initiated for additional employees and Icicle is working with local and federal health and government officials to identify further quarantine and testing recommendations, contact tracing, identification of potential risks to employees and the community, and appropriate actions to aggressively mitigate any potential concerns.”

The seven employees that tested positive all traveled to Alaska on a private chartered plane on 27 May, according to KUCB, and all of Icicle’s seasonal employees in Unalaska tested negative for COVID-19 before they flew from Seattle to Alaska, the company confirmed. After the positive tests, the entire group was immediately put into quarantine in Icicle's housing and separated from other Icicle employees, said Curry.

Icicle currently has 195 employees working on the Northern Victor, according to Chris Pugmire, Icicle's general manager of operations for western Alaska. The company has instituted daily symptom and temperature checks and stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols, as well as employee training efforts on enhanced personal hygiene practices. Furthermore, Icicle “has enacted additional protective measures for employees working in the processing area, enhanced PPE protocols, and each facility is operating as a closed campus to protect our workforce and the communities we operate in,” the company said.

“Seafood has been deemed a critical industry both by the federal government and the state of Alaska and Icicle is proud to continue to supply the world with sustainable seafood from Alaska,” the company said in a statement. “Icicle Seafoods remains completely committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, fishermen and the communities we operate in. We have a responsibility to keep our communities safe, and we take that responsibility seriously. Icicle Seafoods operates to the highest federal and state of Alaska standards of sanitation, cleanliness, and hygiene. We have strengthened our existing plans and protocols to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic so we can continue our important role as food producers.”

Photo courtesy of Pacific Seafood

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