OBI Seafoods confirms COVID-19 outbreak at remote Kodiak Island processing plant

An aerial view of OBI Seafoods showing a blue-roofed processing plant jutting out into the water from a green island.
OBI Seafoods’ processing plant at Alitak on the southern tip of Kodiak Island. (Photo courtesy of OBI Seafoods.)

OBI Seafood has ended weeks of speculation about a wave of new COVID-19 cases on Kodiak Island.

Up until now, health officials would only say that the new, positive tests occurred in a remote part of the borough and were related to the seafood industry. Then, in a statement released Wednesday, OBI Seafoods confirmed that a COVID outbreak began at its Alitak plant on June 28. Twenty-six of those 37 cases were reported on Wednesday. 

Read the OBI Statement on Alitak outbreak.

The company, which formed after a merger between Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods, also had a COVID outbreak at its plant in Seward last month, in which a third of its employees tested positive for the virus.

Elsa DeHart, Kodiak’s public health nurse, said Ocean Beauty is transporting workers to Anchorage.

“Ocean Beauty has taken true responsibility for all these folks and transported most of them to Anchorage already,” DeHart said.

Find all the stories about how the coronavirus is affecting Alaska’s fisheries.

DeHart believes there may be other workers who will soon be moved to Anchorage, pending test results. She says they don’t pose a threat to the rest of Kodiak Island because OBI flew them in and out of Alitak on direct flights that did not come through community airports on the island.

Alitak hugs the coastline on the southern tip of Kodiak Island. In its statement, OBI Seafood said its plant operates as a closed campus, and its workers have had no contact with any other communities on Kodiak Island.

OBI says it has adopted what it calls “aggressive testing schedules,” and moved quickly to isolate workers who tested positive.

In its statement, OBI described the safety measures it has taken to protect workers, which include daily symptom and temperature checks, as well as heightened cleaning and sanitation protocols. It also said it’s taken extra steps to protect employees who work in the processing areas and provided them with more protective gear.

Despite those efforts, DeHart says the virus has been difficult to control.

“The amazing thing is how quickly this spread through a group of people working together,” DeHart said. “A couple people landed there that were positive and it just spread through that group so quickly and so thoroughly.”

Out of a total of 58 cases reported in the Kodiak region since April, only four have been classified as “community spread.” But DeHart says that could change if COVID gets even a small foothold in Kodiak — and could spread as quickly as it has at Alitak. Despite Wednesday’s spike in cases, the COVID-19 threat level for the Kodiak region is still rated low, or in “green” status.