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Bristol Bay Continues Outcry to State for Mandatory Pre-Arrival Quarantine, Testing

May 21, 2020 | Alaska Native, Fisheries, Government, Monitor

Photo from Dillingham Rally for Health during state and federal health officials’ visit on May 14.

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

DILLINGHAM—Bristol Bay’s first COVID-19 case was reported a mere two days after state and federal health officials visited Dillingham and heard first hand requests for adequate testing and enforceable quarantine for incoming fishing industry members.

An asymptomatic Trident worker tested positive on May 15 for COVID-19 while in his final days of a “work-in-place quarantine” in Dillingham. This case comes six weeks after Bristol Bay regional entities initiated a request to the State of Alaska to require pre-arrival testing and enforced quarantine for incoming fishery participants. The regional entities went further to say if the request for proper protections could not or would not be implemented, the commercial fishery should be shut down. Following this request, several processing plants including Trident have implemented their own testing and quarantine protocol.

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“This incident exemplifies why testing and enforced quarantine must be a requirement for all incoming fishermen, a much more vulnerable group facing more challenges than processors when it comes to sanitation, adequate quarantine, and health-care & evacuation support,” states Norm Van Vactor, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. “Our region has been asking the State of Alaska to require mandatory pre-arrival quarantine and testing for the last six weeks. Fishermen have been and continue to arrive daily and we do not have adequate protections in place. Time is up and where is the enforcement?”

Alaska Airlines jet service starts Monday with full flights set to offload hundreds of untested passengers, primarily fishermen coming from out of state, in Dillingham, and King Salmon. To date, existing ordinances on protective measures for testing and enforcement has come directly from the region’s local tribes and municipalities. However, many local communities have stated they don’t have the capacity to adequately implement or enforce the needed measures and are in dire need of state support and leadership.

The State and Federal health officials who visited Dillingham (Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, Director of the Division of Public Health Heidi Hedberg, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Ben Stevens, and Dr. Alex Eastman, a Senior Medical Officer from the Department of Homeland Security) were greeted by a rally of cars lining the only road to the region’s hospital during their tour of Bristol Bay. Signs at the rally communicated the regional communities’ need of support from the state and federal government for mandated testing, enforced quarantine, increased healthcare capacity, and adequate evacuation plans in the event of an outbreak for the best line of defense to combat COVID-19 in Bristol Bay.

Recent testing groups have shown that upwards of 3 percent of industry workers may be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19. Without testing and quarantine, these workers or fishermen could unwittingly spread the disease to more vulnerable members of the population. Trident’s employee in Dillingham marks the second case of COVID-19 brought by seafood processing workers into a previously COVID-free rural Alaskan community, as recently an Ocean Beauty Seafoods employee tested positive in Cordova.

“We have been asking the State for testing and enforcement support for quarantine of incoming fishermen for the last six weeks,” says Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association. “If the State doesn’t act immediately to mandate fishermen be tested before arriving, combined with quarantine and provide enforcement, we will be facing a disaster that could have been prevented.”

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