COVID-19 cases for Unalaska fish processor rise to 3

Port of Dutch Harbor. (KUCB file photo)

Unalaska officials have reported a third local case of COVID-19, after announcing the city’s first two Wednesday.

The three cases are employees of Icicle Seafoods, and they’ve been in quarantine since arriving on private charter planes a week ago, said City Manager Erin Reinders.

“It was a group of 38 Icicle processors that came into Unalaska on May 27,” said Reinders. “And since that time, they’ve been in quarantine together and were going through Icicle’s existing protective measures and protocols.”

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All three individuals were asymptomatic and immediately moved to isolation in Unalaska upon receiving the test results, according to Reinders.

She said the employees had tested negative for COVID-19 in Seattle prior to traveling to Alaska. Upon arrival in Unalaska, the entire group was immediately put into quarantine in Icicle’s housing and separated from other Icicle employees.

The 35 remaining workers have now started another 14-day quarantine period, and other Icicle employees that had direct contact with the quarantined group have also been tested and are following quarantine measures.

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In a written statement Wednesday, Icicle said the company — whose sole processing facility in Unalaska is the Northern Victor, a floating processing ship — is prepared to handle a positive case and is activating cleaning and sanitation measures.

Reinders said the local clinic is working with Icicle to make sure sick workers are cared for, and with the state’s health department to mitigate community spread. 

“The Department of Health and Social Services’ role now is to do contact tracing,” Reinders said. “They are going through those protocols and contacting individuals that might have had interactions with these individuals that tested positive.”

The positive tests on Wednesday were conducted as part of Icicle’s Community and Workforce COVID-19 Protective Plan, which includes testing of quarantined employees halfway through their 14-day quarantine period.

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Julianne Curry, public affairs manager for Icicle, said that at the Northern Victor, the company observes a non-working quarantine. 

“We test our employees in Seattle if they’re arriving from out-of-state, which all of our Northern Victor employees are. We test them in Seattle, they quarantine at the hotel until those results come back, and once those results come back negative, then we transport them to Unalaska,” said Curry. “Once they arrive there, they’ll quarantine for six days as per the state mandate and our company’s community and workforce protective plan, and then they receive a COVID test. Then, at the end of the quarantine period, they’ll receive another COVID test, and once that test comes back negative, that releases them to be allowed to go into the workforce.”

Using guidance from state public health officials, Melanee Tiura, chief executive of Iliuliuk Family Health Services, said Unalaska’s clinic is currently working on an action plan, which includes a timeline for testing the remaining employees in the group. 

She said the charter flights contained only employees of Icicle Seafoods, and that the clinic and the seafood company are working to prevent the spread of the virus into the community.

“The process that was followed by our team and industry partners in this situation was solid and poses little risk for community spread,” Tiura said.

Curry said company officials are looking to the state and 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 — to be the authority on how they will proceed.

“We feel very strongly that these decisions and the actions that we take need to be done in conjunction with the local Unified Command in Unalaska and the State of Alaska,” said Curry. “We’re partners in this, we’re partners in protecting our Unalaska community, and we’re partners in protecting the State of Alaska. So we’ll be making those decisions hand-in-hand with them.” 

Curry said Icicle Seafoods had been planning to bring another group of 35 to 40 employees up to work at the Northern Victor in the next week, but said the company is reevaluating whether that timeline needs to be shifted. 

The City of Unalaska will not be raising its assessment of the community’s risk level, which is currently at “medium.” Under the city’s COVID-19 emergency response plan, the city will not move to “high” risk unless there is confirmed community spread or widespread exposure of COVID-19 on the island.