On edge as it heads into fishing season, Bristol Bay has its first resident coronavirus case

Bristol Bay in 2017. (Photo by Avery Lill/KDLG)

The first Alaskan from the Bristol Bay/Lake and Peninsula region has tested positive for COVID-19. The state has not disclosed which community they are from because it has less than 1,000 residents.

The case is not associated with the seafood industry, and the person wasn’t tested in their home community, according to Louisa Castrodale with the Department of Health and Social Services. It was not clear where the person is currently located.

On May 15, Dillingham saw its first case of the disease, but that person was a seasonal seafood worker, not a resident of the region. So far, 402 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19, with 352 recoveries. The total number of non-resident cases is up to 12. That includes two new instances of seafood workers who tested positive for the virus in Anchorage.

The communities around Bristol Bay have been anxiously gearing up to deal with COVID-19 cases over the last few months. The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation runs the hospital in Dillingham, as well as village clinics in 28 communities.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said at a recent news conference that the state is collaborating with federal agencies to secure additional testing for areas like Bristol Bay, where thousands of fishermen and processing workers travel to participate in the sockeye fishery. Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is distributing several additional testing machines to villages around the region.

Local and state officials have said that the response to Dillingham’s first positive case last week demonstrates that processor health protocols, as well as the local ordinances and state mandates, are effective. The state also says it is providing testing at the Anchorage Airport. But some residents still feel that communities aren’t adequately prepared for the commercial fishing season. A group of regional entities published a letter Saturday calling on the state to mandate pre-arrival testing for incoming fishermen.

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