Alaska reporting 19 new cases of coronavirus infections among nonresidents, mostly seafood workers

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A commercial fisherman and salmon in Bristol Bay, July 2, 2013. (Creative Commons photo by Chris Ford)

The state is reporting new COVID-19 cases in 16 Alaskans and 19 nonresidents — all but 3 of those are seasonal workers in the seafood industry.

Among the nonresident seafood workers, two are in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, two are in the Valdez-Cordova Census area, and the remaining 12 are in the Dillingham Census Area.

The twelve seafood workers in Dillingham tested positive for COVID-19 while under quarantine, the Bristol Bay hub town announced late Monday, sparking anxiety in the small community.

OBI Seafoods — the new company created by a merger of the Alaska operations of Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods — confirmed Wednesday that the 12 positive cases are workers in Dillingham at its Wood River seafood processing plant. The individuals are asymptomatic and all were in quarantine together when they tested positive.

OBI is working with state and local healthcare providers to conduct contact tracing investigations, and the company has contacted other employees who may have come in contact with the individuals.

After they tested positive on the sixth day of quarantine they were moved to isolation facilities at the company’s closed campus in Dillingham. The seafood company is testing all employees before they get to Dillingham. That’s followed by two more rounds of testing while in quarantine, according to the announcement.

Anxiety has been high in Bristol Bay communities for months, as thousands of fishermen and seafood processing workers from Outside.

In April, Dillingham’s city and the Curyung Tribal Council asked the governor to consider closing the fishery, citing the region’s limited health care capacity.

“Our worse fears are home to roost,” Robin Samuelsen, a Dillingham Alaska Native leader, wrote in a Facebook post after the new cases were announceed. “Outsiders bringing the virus to us in Dillingham.”

Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby was more optimistic.

“While we are always concerned to hear about positive cases of COVID-19 in Dillingham, the protection plans in place caught these cases during quarantine and are helping to prevent community spread,” Ruby said in the community’s statement.

There are 35 new cases statewide included in the state health department’s data update Tuesday. The number of Alaskans with active COVID-19 infections has also reached a new high: 264.

The new COVID-19 cases announced Tuesday brings the total number of infections among Alaskans since March to 778. The total among nonresidents in Alaska is now 129, about 70% of them seafood workers.

The state health department on Tuesday reported one more Alaskan hospitalized with COVID-19, and no new deaths in Alaska from the disease.

There are now 14 Alaskans currently hospitalized who have COVID-19 or who are suspected to be infected. One of them is on a ventilator.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information about the 12 seafood workers in Dillingham who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. 

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