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COVID-19 Hits A Second Trident Plant As First Outbreak Grows To 266

Courtesy Helena Buurman
Alaska Volcano Observatory

COVID-19 has hit another processing plant operated by fishing giant Trident Seafoods — this time aboard one of the corporation's massive factory trawlers, the Island Enterprise.

Trident announced Thursday five workers on the football field-length ship tested positive for the coronavirus after it arrived in the Aleutian port of Dutch Harbor for the winter fishing season. 

The news comes amid a still-growing outbreak that's already shut down Trident's massive processing plant on the Aleutian island of Akutan, just as the lucrative Bering Sea pollock fishery was set to ramp up. That outbreak has infected 266 of Akutan's 700 plant workers, Trident announced Thursday.

COVID-19 has also closed two other major processing plants in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, threatening to derail the pollock season. Trident, in a prepared statement, said it was mystified about how the virus evaded the ship's quarantine protocols and infiltrated the campus of the isolated Akutan plant.

"We've reviewed our quarantine strategy and other prevention protocols throughout our closed-campus and vessel operations," said Stefanie Moreland, a Trident executive. "We have not detected a gap that would explain how the virus entered, so are consulting with our medical partners on additional testing options to supplement current strong prevention measures."

The Akutan plant shut down a week ago after a handful of workers tested positive for COVID-19, just as the billion-dollar pollock season kicked off.  

Bad weather delayed shipments of the supplies and the arrival of medical workers Trident needed to conduct mass testing of its large Akutan workforce. But company officials said Thursday that nearly all of the plant's workers have now been tested, and it should be able to continue testing every one to three days.

"This will allow us to be confident in assessing and reporting on our progress toward recovering from this outbreak," Moreland said. 

Workers who tested positive in Akutan are isolating in company housing and have been separated from individuals who tested negative, Trident's statement said. Some 100 workers considered "high-risk" have been taken to Anchorage to quarantine. 

"Our people are safe, supported, and have been cooperative through the disruption necessitated by isolation efforts to eliminate the virus from their living and working quarters," Moreland said.

Onshore processing plants in the Aleutians were largely successful in keeping the virus out of their facilities last year, despite flying hundreds of workers from around the world to process Bering Sea pollock, Pacific cod and crab each year. 

But this season is proving to be more of a challenge, as COVID-19 has become more rampant in Alaska and Outside.   

The Island Enterprise arrived in Dutch Harbor on Wednesday with two workers showing COVID-19 symptoms, and testing subsequently revealed the five total cases onboard. 

Trident said it believes the virus was detected early, but due to the close quarters on the boat, it plans to re-quarantine the full workforce for at least two weeks, Moreland said. 

Neither the Akutan plant nor Island Enterprise are currently operating, Trident said. The company is focusing its efforts on eliminating the virus to support a safe return to work, its statement said.

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