Outbreak at Seward salmon processing plant grows to 96, state says

Seward small boat harbor. (Alaska Public Media file photo)

OBI Seafoods has shut down a salmon processing plant in the Kenai Peninsula town of Seward after 96 workers there tested positive for COVID-19, according to state officials.

The plant has about 260 workers, who are a mix of residents and nonresidents, according to Scott Meszaros, Seward’s city manager.

After an initial positive test Sunday, OBI Seafoods tested all of the plant’s employees, the state health department said in a prepared statement.

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All employees who tested positive are being moved to Anchorage, according to Meszaros.

OBI Seafoods was created earlier this year from a merger between Icicle Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafoods; Icicle Seafoods owned the Seward plant before the merger. Officials with the new company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Seward suddenly became a hub for seafood industry COVID-19 cases this week, as a factory fishing vessel with 85 infected crew arrived in town Wednesday from the Aleutian Islands. The crew from the American Triumph, operated by Seattle-based American Seafoods, was also moved to Anchorage for isolation.

Another plant in Juneau was also hit by the virus last week.

“Alaska is currently experiencing three large, separate outbreaks of COVID-19 in the seafood industry,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist. “These outbreaks are reminiscent of the meat packing plant outbreaks in the Lower 48 and stress the importance of vigilant symptom screening and prompt facility-wide testing in congregate work settings when index cases are identified.”

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Meszaros said the city of Seward is doing “everything it can” to protect residents.

He also praised OBI Seafoods for the efforts it made and the money it spent to protect its employees and to try to keep the virus out.

“They’ve given us their plans, they’ve followed their mandates,” he said. “I feel very secure in saying they’re doing it right and we are supportive of what they’re doing. In lieu of that, all it takes is one sick individual to come into that environment — and they can’t keep the people that live here out of the plant.”