Seattle-based American Seafoods, after most of the 126-person crew aboard its American Dynasty tested positive for COVID-19, has decided to screen the crews of two additional vessels.
The new round of testing involves the crews of the American Triumph and the Northern Jaeger as they dock in Bellingham, according to a company statement.
“We’re conducting these tests out of an abundance of caution,” said Mikel Durham, the company’s chief executive.
All three of American Seafoods’ vessels had been participating in the Pacific whiting harvest off the Northwest coast with large crews onboard to operate the vessels and equipment that processes and freezes the catch. Their work often entails long hours of close-quarters labor in a season that started last month.
Last week, a crew member of the American Dynasty tested positive and was hospitalized in Bellingham. A subsequent screening of other crew determined that 85 were positive. That vessel has returned to Seattle, and the crew members who tested positive are staying in lodging acquired by King County for COVID-19 patients.
The American Triumph and the Northern Jaeger, as of Wednesday, are both in Bellingham, where their processed fish is being unloaded.
Last week aboard the Northern Jaeger, one crew member reported feeling ill and was transported to a hospital, where he tested negative for the coronavirus, according to the company’s statement.
Washington is the hub for a fleet of vessels that take to sea to catch and process fish, including pollock off Alaska that is the largest volume fishery in the nation. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the companies that operate these vessels have worked with health consultants to come up with plans to try keep the virus from their boats, as well as remote Alaska communities, where there are serious concerns that the industry will spread the pandemic on shore.
American Seafoods has come up with a plan that involves at least a five-day quarantine as well as testing crew for the infection and the presence of antibodies, according to a company spokesperson. Only those who tested negative were allowed to board.
The Seattle Times previously has reported that some companies have opted for full 14-day quarantines for crew before boarding the vessels, along with testing.
Dr. Ann Jarris, whose company Discovery Health MD sets up testing for more than 30 fishing companies, said she recommends to her clients the two-week quarantine. She said the time from an initial exposure to the virus to an infection detectable through testing can stretch up to two weeks, although four to five days is the median.
The testing for the infection helps to determine if those who have symptoms are positive. The testing also may pick up those who have the virus but are without symptoms even though they may be able to transmit COVID-19 to other people.