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Tally Of Confirmed Cases Of COVID-19 On American Seafoods Vessels Exceeds 100

Hope McKenney/KUCB

Two North Pacific and Bering Sea trawlers have reported COVID-19 among more than two dozen crew members. That's a tally of more than 100 people on different open ocean fishing vessels that have tested positive for the virus in recent days. 

The American Seafoods ships are currently moored in Bellingham, Washington, and are expected to depart for their home port of Seattle on Saturday, company spokesperson Suzanne Lagoni said Friday. 

"We decided out of an abundance of caution that we would test two vessels that came into Bellingham, Washington — the Northern Jaeger and the American Triumph — and we got those results back and found that there were four positives on the Triumph and 21 on the Northern Jaeger," Lagoni said. 

That's a total of 25 people testing positive for coronavirus. A combined 206 crew tested negative across both ships, she added. 

Those crew members who tested positive have been placed in isolation off the vessels, according to officials. The company said they are ensuring that the individuals receive medical attention, housing, basic care, and are able to stay in contact with their families during their isolation. 

"We take this situation very seriously," said Lagoni. "We are keeping an eye on how everything is going. Our primary consideration is to make sure that the people who tested positive are getting the kind of care that they need."

American Seafoods said it quarantined and tested all crew members on both vessels before going to sea in mid-May. Only individuals who tested negative were allowed on board. Officials said the company incorporated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local health agencies, and other public health specialists to establish initial screening and testing protocols.

Earlier this week, the company said it had previously required only a five-day quarantine, which is far less than the 14 days recommended under state and federal guidelines. 

"We have sought advice on how to improve our crew safety net," said Mikel Durham, the company's CEO, in a statement Friday. "We have extended the quarantine before going to sea to 14 days, and we will require two negative PCR (nasal swab) tests before crew members can board or re-board a vessel. We continue to work with our public health partners to make appropriate adjustments to our protocols based on the growing body of knowledge about this virus."

Lagoni said the two factory trawlers were last in Dutch Harbor "several months ago," but didn't provide the exact date. 

American Seafoods is coordinating with a variety of agencies in its response to COVID-19. Those include Whatcom County Health Department, Public Health—Seattle & King County, the CDC, U.S. Coast Guard, Whatcom County Unified Command, and the Ports of Seattle and Bellingham. 

American Seafoods is based in Seattle and runs six vessels that fish for pollock, hake, and sole in both the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

Three of its six-vessel fleet have now had positive cases of COVID-19, including 92 people on the 272-foot American Dynasty. 

Lagoni wouldn't say whether American Seafoods plans to test crews on the company's other three vessels.   

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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