Initial testing has found 135 positive coronavirus cases among workers at a Trident Seafoods processing plant in Akutan — a remote Aleutian Islands hub for processing pollock, cod and crab.
Alaska state health officials, who reported the test results Tuesday, said testing and other medical supplies have been sent to the plant. Evacuations by ship have been carried out for some employees most at risk should they get infected as well as emergency air evacuations of five sick workers, some of whom had illnesses other than COVID-19.
“Right now, the company is taking all appropriate measures to limit further spread of the virus within their workforce,” said Thomas Koloski, an Alaska state emergency management official.
Currently, Seattle-based Trident has some 700 workers based at the Akutan plant to process pollock, cod and crab, and had planned to bring in some 700 additional workers for the peak winter harvest season. As of Tuesday afternoon, 307 workers at the plant had been tested, and the 135 infections represented a positive rate of almost 44%.
Testing is expected to be completed in the days ahead. Trident officials, who did not comment on the partial test results, say they will fully disclose all results once they are complete.
“We have a great team focused on making sure we’re preventing further spread of the virus while we continue to assess each individual employee’s health, care for the sick and understand who already had been infected,” said Trident Seafoods Chief Executive Officer Joe Bundrant, in a written statement.
Trident Seafoods paid for 14-day quarantines and testing to try to prevent coronavirus from reaching the Akutan plant, which is located close to the harvest grounds and a key facility for processing pollock — North America’s biggest single-species seafood harvest.
But on Jan. 17, four workers tested positive for coronavirus. Then, last week, Trident announced what was expected to be a three-week hold to the processing due to the outbreak.
Coronavirus outbreaks also have resulted in the temporary closure of two other major Alaska shore-based processing plants — Unisea and Alyeska Seafoods — located in Dutch Harbor on Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands. This has left boats that would normally deliver crab and fish to these plants tied up at docks with their crews in isolation to avoid community contact.
Anchorage Daily News reporters Zaz Hollander and Annie Berman contributed to this story