Coronavirus cases detected at Alaska seafood plant owned by Seattle-based Trident Seafoods

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Seattle-based Trident Seafoods reports that four employees at the Akutan, Alaska fish factory tested positive for coronavirus, including one who had difficulty breathing and had to be evacuated by air to a hospital in Anchorage.

The Akutan plant in the Aleutian Islands is a processing center for the harvest of pollock, crab and cod in the Bering Sea. The workforce of 700 will grow to 1,400 in the coming weeks.

The four employees who tested positive were all roommates. They all had gone through a full 14-day quarantine and tested negative for the virus before flying to their workplaces in Akutan, where the facility operates as a closed campus with no contact with other islanders allowed, according to Joe Bundrant, Trident’s Chief Executive Officer.

“Health and safety are our absolute priority,” said Bundrant. “We have said from the start of this pandemic that if we have a problem, we will shed some light on it. We want to make sure that people are aware of this and know that we are taking this very seriously. “

Trident is North America’s largest harvesting and processing company. The Akutan facility is the largest of a network of processing operations the company operates in Alaska.

For Trident and other seafood companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major health challenge and has resulted in quarantines, testing and other measures to prevent the virus from spreading. The quarantine expenses for hotels, food and wages were enormous, said Bundrant. Around 4,500 employees have gone through the two-week process since spring.

The company’s employees are assessing the potential operational impact of the spread of COVID-19 at the Akutan facility, according to a statement released by Trident Seafoods on Monday. The company is currently pushing 365 additional process workers to Akutan, which is 750 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Stefanie Moreland, a spokeswoman for Trident Seafoods, said the company could step up testing and isolate some of the most vulnerable workers as well. She also said an investigation will look for loopholes in the logs that could have led to the positive cases.

According to Moreland, the Akutan Trident cases are the first in the company’s closed Alaska facilities, where employees are provided sleeping and eating accommodation and are not allowed to visit nearby communities during the pandemic.

“This is the first known occurrence of the virus in a processing facility in Trident Alaska,” Moreland said.

At Lower 48 facilities in Trident, there have been more than 80 confirmed cases that Moreland said were from the community rather than the workplace.