SEATTLE — Seattle-based Trident Seafoods reports that four workers at the company’s Akutan seafood plant in the Aleutian Islands have 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 is a processing hub for Bering Sea harvests of pollock, crab and cod, with a workforce of 700 employees that will swell in the weeks ahead to 1,400 people.
The four employees who tested positive were all roommates. They had all undergone a full 14-day quarantine and tested negative for the virus before flying to their jobs in Akutan, where the plant is operated as a closed campus with no contact allowed with other island residents, according to Joe Bundrant, Trident’s chief executive officer.
“Health and safety are our absolute priority,” Bundrant said. “We have said from the beginning of this pandemic that if we have an issue, we’re going to shed a light on it. We want to be sure people are aware and know that we are taking this very seriously.”
Trident is North America’s largest harvesting and processing company. The Akutan plant is the largest of a network of processing plants that the company operates in Alaska.
For Trident and other seafood companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major health challenge and prompted quarantines, testing and other measures to try to prevent the spread of the virus. The quarantine-related expenses of hotels, food and wages have been huge, Bundrant said. Since the spring, some 4,500 employees have gone through the two-week process.
Company officials are assessing any potential operational impacts of COVID-19 spreading at the Akutan plant, according to a Trident Seafoods statement released Monday. Currently, the company is holding off on sending 365 additional processing workers to Akutan, which is 750 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Stefanie Moreland, a Trident Seafoods spokesperson, said the company may increase testing and also isolate some workers most at risk. She also said an investigation will look for gaps in protocols that could have resulted in the positive cases.
Moreland said the Trident cases in Akutan are the first in the closed-campus facilities the company has operated in Alaska, where employees are provided quarters for sleeping and eating and are not permitted during the pandemic to visit nearby communities.
“This is the first known occurrence of the virus in a Trident Alaska processing facility,” Moreland said.
In Lower 48 facilities, Trident has had more than 80 confirmed cases, which Moreland said have come from community spread rather than spread through the workplace.