Seafood industry workers test positive for COVID-19, marking first confirmed cases in Unalaska

Despite the two positive cases, City Manager Erin Reinders said the city will not be increasing its community risk level. CREDIT HOPE MCKENNEY/KUCB

The City of Unalaska has confirmed its first local cases of COVID-19. Two seafood industry workers tested positive for the virus on Wednesday.

The two men are employees at Icicle Seafoods, and have been in quarantine since arriving in Unalaska seven days ago, said City Manager Erin Reinders.

“The plans that Icicle had in place is that [the two] were tested in Seattle prior to traveling to Unalaska. At that point, their test results were negative. Then at the seven day point in that quarantine, they got a second round of testing, and the positive test results occurred today,” Reinders said.

RELATED: Alaska’s fishing communities have plans to contain COVID-19. Now they’ll be put to the test.

Reinders said the men are both asymptomatic and were immediately moved to isolation in Unalaska upon receiving positive test results.

“Upon learning of the two positive cases, Icicle immediately enacted our isolation protocol for the employees and our cleaning and sanitation protocol as per our Community and Workforce Protective Plan,” said Chris Pugmire, Icicle’s general manager of operations for western Alaska. “Although we tested all employees prior to travel to Unalaska, we were prepared for the event of a positive case and we greatly appreciate the local Unified Command’s swift and coordinated response.” 

The city, Icicle Seafoods, and Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS) are following the protocol developed by Unalaska’s Unified Command, which is a COVID-19 response team made up of healthcare officials, seafood industry, school district representatives, social service agencies, and the Qawalangin Tribe.

RELATED: After trawler outbreak, American Seafoods tests crews for COVID-19 as ‘precautionary measure’

“The clinic is taking care of working with the Department of Health and Social Services, making sure that they have the information that they need so that the state can begin contact tracing,” Reinders said. “The clinic has also been working with Icicle Seafoods to ensure that the appropriate care is being provided. We don’t anticipate, at this point, to be raising our risk level here locally. Because these are identifiable cases, we’re able to keep these individuals isolated, and our clinic is able to still maintain a standard of care for the community as a whole.”

The state’s health department is taking care of the contact-tracing and will reach out to people who may have had interactions with the two men.

Unalaska is the largest community in Alaska without a critical access hospital. The nearest emergency room is almost a thousand miles away, in Anchorage. Melanee Tiura, chief executive officer at Unalaska’s only health care facility — which serves anywhere from ten to fifteen thousand year-round residents and seasonal workers — said the clinic is prepared to handle cases of COVID-19.

RELATED: 18 more Alaskans, another nonresident seafood worker test positive for coronavirus, state says

In partnership with the city and fish processors, the clinic created an isolation and quarantine facility for those infected with COVID-19 and began local “rapid” testing in April. As of Wednesday, 194 people had been tested.

“While confirmation of the first positive cases of COVID-19 in our community is concerning, the parties involved did everything correctly,” Tiura said. “The positive cases were identified as part of the employer’s testing protocols, which were put in place specifically to protect Icicle’s workforce and our community.”

Reinders said the city will not be increasing its community risk level – which is currently at “medium.”

The individuals are not residents of Alaska, and will therefore be listed separately from the total state case count. The two men join 23 other people from out-of-state who have tested positive for the virus in Alaska. 

KUCB reporter Maggie Nelson contributed to this story.