The massive and remote Trident Seafoods plant at Akutan resumed some processing Friday, nearly a month after a fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak forced the Seattle-based company to halt operations.
The Alaska plant, perched at the edge of the Bering Sea near the tiny village of about 100 people, is the largest seafood processing facility in North America. Four COVID-19 cases first reported by the company in mid-January quickly expanded in close quarters. Ultimately, more than 40% of 706 workers tested positive.
Now there are just two positive cases at the plant, a company spokesman said Monday. Those workers are isolated on site.
The company said 115 employees who had been quarantined in Sand Point and Anchorage arrived in Akutan over the past several days to assist with crab and cod processing “at a crucial point in the season” as well as getting the pollock plant ready to start processing this week.
The seafood giant halted operations Jan. 21 as the billion-dollar pollock season started and with cod and crab fisheries already underway. Plans to bring in medical supplies — and evacuate at least three sick workers to Anchorage — were complicated by stormy weather that delayed some flights to the Aleutian Islands.
“Multiple rounds of comprehensive testing brought welcome news last week that COVID-19 cases had been isolated on site,” Trident officials said in a statement Monday. The company plans to continue testing and screening workers for symptoms, and requiring them to wear protective gear and follow distancing protocols.
The company says it is putting additional measures in place to “support a swift response” if the coronavirus surfaces again, including a redesign of shift and break schedules to limit instances of close contact and capacity limits to allow distancing in all areas outside work stations, from the galley to the area for donning and doffing rain gear.
The Akutan outbreak is one of several that swept through fishing vessels and processors this winter.
Seafood industry workers over 50 are among the latest people eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations under Alaska’s rollout. State officials announced this month that nonresident seafood industry workers who fall in that category could also get vaccinated.