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UniSea Under Partial Lockdown While City Determines If COVID-19 Positives Indicate Community Spread

Hope McKenney/KUCB

UniSea is under partial lockdown and has shut down all non-essential work after four employees of the processing plant tested positive for COVID-19 Tuesday. 

Four "non-quarantined" individuals complained of not feeling well and were taken to the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic where they tested positive, according to UniSea President and CEO Tom Enlow.

"This raised our risk level to 'high' and we sent everyone to their housing quarters and basically shut down non-essential work," he told KUCB in a statement Wednesday. "We have restricted movement outside of our campus to only essential travel, such as to the clinic or for supplies."

The processing plant worked with clinic staff on contact tracing, and identified roughly 50 close contacts who are being tested at the clinic Wednesday, according to Enlow. He said they are working to determine if the virus was contained to a "small group" that gathered to celebrate the New Year or whether the positive cases are indicative of more widespread community transmission. All four of the people who later tested positive attended the New Year gathering. 

"Testing results will allow clinic personnel to determine if these community acquired cases are isolated or widespread within the community," the city said in a statement. 

The results will determine UniSea's next steps, Enlow added, and whether the plant will allow small groups to return to work.  

The city also reported nine additional industry-related cases Wednesday. It did not specify which processing facilities or vessels the cases are from. 

Unalaska's coronavirus risk level remains at "medium." Once the city determines if the community cases are isolated or widespread, the city said the Emergency Operations Center will reassess the local risk level and the City Council will reexamine local measures to protect public health accordingly.

Meanwhile, in light of the positive cases at UniSea, students living in facility housing will likely remain at home through at least Friday with excused absences, according to Superintendent John Conwell.

If they have to remain home longer, they will likely shift to home-based learning.    

"We will definitely work with those families and those students," Conwell said. "We do have teachers who are on contract addendums to work with students who are home-based and possibly signed up for the Alaska Statewide Virtual School. So we do have a plan for that."

The district will determine how to move forward with classes based on the risk level determined by the EOC, Conwell added.  

To date, this marks 223 cases of the coronavirus in Unalaska. 30 of those are currently active. 

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