A dozen positive COVID-19 cases at Dillingham processor concern residents

Community mural and tile mosaic in Dillingham, Alaska. (KTUU).

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After staving off the spread of the coronavirus longer than much of the state, COVID-19 has arrived in Bristol Bay before the salmon.

On Tuesday a dozen workers at a seafood processor in Dillingham tested positive for COVID-19.

"I guess we've been speculating that this is what was probably going to happen," Norm Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation said. "The only surprise is that it's happened this soon."

Van Vactor was one of several leaders of regional organizations that called on the governor to cancel the more than $300 million summer fishery in Bristol Bay if appropriate safety protocol could not be met. The City of Dillingham and Curyung Tribal Council wrote a similar letter.

Although the industry has adopted new procedures because of COVID-19, Van Vactor feels that not everyone is taking the virus seriously enough.

"There are a couple of processors that are doing it and that have adopted policies and procedures that are in alignment with what a lot of our regional groups have asked for. This situation in Dillingham is an example of a company that has not, and they're certainly not alone," Van Vactor said.

The company, OBI Seafoods, said in a statement that its employees tested negative for COVID-19 before traveling to Dillingham and that the employees were tested on the sixth day of a two-week quarantine when the test results were positive.

OBI Seafoods formed this summer when Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods merged. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation was a 50% owner in Ocean Beauty, but now owns 25% of OBI Seafoods. Van Vactor says that merger diminishes BBEDC's ability as an owner to influence the company's policies.

In a statement, the mayor of the City of Dillingham encouraged everyone to continue to be cautious and follow state and local measures including quarantine and testing requirements.

"While we are always concerned to hear about positive cases of COVID-19 in Dillingham, the protection plans in place caught these cases during quarantine and are helping to prevent community spread," Mayor Alice Ruby said.

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