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All Four Of Unalaska's Processing Plants Now Affected By COVID-19 As UniSea Employee Tests Positive

Hope McKenney/KUCB


Updated 08/25/20 at 12:30 p.m.

City officials reported a new positive case of COVID-19 in Unalaska Monday, bringing the positive local case count to 99.

The City of Unalaska reports that the individual who tested positive is an employee of UniSea and has been in quarantine since arriving in Unalaska by charter flight on Aug. 17.

"The employee is part of our Corporate Sales Team and recently traveled from Seattle to Dutch Harbor," said Tom Enlow, president and CEO of UniSea, in a statement. "He was in quarantine at the time of the positive test. The individual is not exhibiting any COVID symptoms and is doing fine."

In compliance with the company's COVID-19 mitigation plan, the employee received a negative COVID-19 test before traveling to Unalaska, and the positive result was received at the mid-point of their quarantine period, according to Melanee Tiura, chief executive of Unalaska's clinic. She said it appears that the mid-quarantine test employed by industry is particularly helpful to identify individuals who were exposed shortly before their travel.

"The plan we put in place several months ago, the state did a very good job — especially with industry — of setting very high standards," said Tiura. "And so, the 14-day quarantine with three-test strategy has proven very effective."

Upon receiving the positive test result, the individual was placed in isolation per state public health guidance. They are being monitored by staff from Iliuliuk Family and Health Services.

The employee did not have any contact with other individuals during his quarantine leading up to the positive test, according to Enlow, "nor will the individual have any contact for the remainder of his isolation and recovery," he said in the statement.

"I want you all to know that the safety and well-being of UniSea's employees, as well as the community of Unalaska and its residents, is [our] highest priority," Enlow said. "We have, and we will continue to follow the protocols established in our Community and Workforce Protection Plan for the coronavirus."

According to Tiura, the state continues to conduct contact tracing, and is beginning to expand its contact tracing network. Through an agreement with the state and the Alaska Primary Care Association, she said IFHS is moving forward to formally assist in those efforts, especially with local cases. Several members of the clinic's team will participate in the contact tracing training over the next couple of weeks, she added.

"Contact tracing is happening," Tiura said. "The state has had skyrocketing numbers in the last several weeks, so we've noticed the difficulties in implementing it right off the bat, as it had been done when the case count was much lower." 

Tiura added that the city makes sure to include in its press releases when a person who tested positive for COVID-19 flew into the community. This allows Unalaskans to be proactive and self-identify if they were on the same flight, and reach out to the clinic to see if they should be tested.

The case at UniSea marks 99 positive cases of COVID-19 in Unalaska. The virus has now affected all four of the island's processing plants. Overall, Tiura said she has very few concerns at this time. 

"What we have avoided are outbreaks, where we have multiple cases at one time," Tiura said. "It's gone really well. We've been very pleased, and the fact that it's affected all four [processing plants], unfortunately, at this point, it's the luck of the draw."

In addition to Monday's positive case, a family member of an employee of Alyeska Seafoods tested positive for the virus earlier this month. A family member of an employee of Westward Seafoods contracted the virus in another state and tested positive during their travel-related quarantine in Unalaska in late July. 

85 cases have been among American Seafoods crew members, eight have been among Icicle Seafoods employees, one was a Resolve-Magone Marine employee in late July, one was a Pacific Stevedoring employee in early July, and one was anemployee of the Alaska Marine Highway System who tested positive for the virus in Unalaska on the M/V Tustumena's first ferry trip of the season in early June.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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