The Copper River Seafoods plant on East First Avenue in Anchorage on Friday. (Anchorage Daily News photo)
We’re making coronavirus coverage available without a subscription as a public service. But we depend on reader support to do this work. Please consider joining others in supporting local journalism in Alaska for just $3.23 a week.
Fifty-six workers at the Copper River Seafoods processing plant in Anchorage have tested positive for COVID-19, the Anchorage Health Department said in a statement Friday night, marking the latest outbreak within Alaska’s seafood industry.
Nearly all of the employees at the plant, which employs 134 workers, live in the Municipality of Anchorage, the health department said. Another 30 test results have not yet been returned and 14 workers were not tested, according to the department. Testing was conducted from July 17 to 22.
The Anchorage Health Department and state Department of Health and Social Services’ Section of Epidemiology are working to conduct contact tracing. The two agencies are coordinating with Copper River Seafoods “to control this outbreak as quickly as possible and prevent further spread of the disease among co-workers, family members and the community,” the Anchorage Health Department said.
“This is a concerning situation for the people of Anchorage,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, disease control and prevention medical officer with the city health department. “With so many workers now testing positive, it is likely that this outbreak has been in progress for some time and that transmission has already occurred among family, friends and others in the community.”
Those who tested positive were told to follow protocols for isolation established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the city health department said. Employees with negative test results will stay in quarantine and undergo testing every three days until no more cases are identified. Health officials have instructed them and household members of those who test positive — all considered close contacts — to follow guidelines for quarantine and self-monitoring from the CDC, according to the city health department.
Copper River Seafoods closed the plant for disinfection and deep cleaning after the first case was confirmed, the health department said.
The Copper River Seafoods virus cases mark the third-largest outbreak in the state: An OBI Seafoods processing plant in Seward saw 98 cases among workers, and the factory trawler American Triumph identified 85 cases among crew after docking at Dutch Harbor. The fourth-largest outbreak involves 40 cases among workers at the Alaska Glacier Seafoods plant in Juneau.
This week, the state epidemiologist described a change in the makeup of seafood industry workers testing positive for COVID-19. Virus cases within the industry now increasingly involve local residents working at processing plants — individuals going back and forth from the community at large to closed campuses, increasing the risk of the virus spreading from one sphere to another.
Health officials continue to urge the public to wear a face covering in public, keep a distance of 6 feet from people they don’t live with, regularly wash their hands, maintain a small social bubble and avoid big gatherings.
“Anyone who feels even mildly ill is encouraged to get tested,” the city health department said. “If you test positive, please contact your own close contacts if you can, to minimize the time those people might be out in the community, potentially exposing others.”
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]