Alaska Glacier Seafoods has had an outbreak of the coronavirus that’s spread to 38 workers as of July 20, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Glacier Seafoods has had an outbreak of the coronavirus that’s spread to 38 workers as of July 20, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Alaska and Juneau hit new highs for COVID-19 cases

AGS was hit by untraceable community spread.

This story has been updated to reflect the most-recent data.

The City and Borough of Juneau confirmed more cases of the coronavirus at Alaska Glacier Seafoods, bringing the total connected to the outbreak there to 38 as of Monday evening.

On Friday, the city announced that eight close contacts of a person who contracted the coronavirus through community spread had tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, dozens of additional cases were reported.

“One of the nine was the first case,” said Robert Barr, the planning section chief of CBJ’s emergency operations center. “It was a community transmission case which means essentially we were not able to identify where the infection came from.”

Of the people who tested positive, 29 are nonresidents and 6 are residents, according to the city. Additional positives were announced late Monday. It was not immediately clear whether those people are residents or nonresidents.

All infected employees from AGS are currently isolated, according to a City and Borough of Juneau news release.

“When you feel healthy it’s usually a safe assumption, but right now it’s not. People didn’t know they were infecting their coworkers, but they were,” Barr said. “It’s really important right now to distance indoors and wear a mask.”

Across Alaska, a record-breaking or near-record setting number of new cases were reported over the weekend. Seventy-eight new cases — 62 residents, 16 nonresidents — were reported Saturday, with 119 — 82 residents and 37 nonresidents — reported Sunday. A new high of 141 new cases — 75 residents and 66 nonresidents — were reported Monday. Due to the varied nature of state and city reporting, these Alaska numbers do not necessarily account for the cases reported by CBJ, so the actual state case count for these days could be higher.

“They’re coordinating with us and the Division of Public Health and contact tracers to make good decisions,” Barr said. “We have made Centennial Hall available to them if they need it. They are working closely with Public Health.”

AGS vice president and co-owner Jim Erickson said the company had done everything it could to make sure it was safe bringing in out-of-state workers and operating, only to be hit with a case of community spread.

[Valley Bullwinkle’s robbed early Monday morning]

“It’s been tough. When you care about your workers and care about your community, it’s tough,” Erickson said in a phone interview. “We’re happy to see how well our people are doing that tested positive.”

When their first case tested positive on July 4, they immediately isolated the employee and 17 people they were in close contact with. When eight of those people tested positive, the whole company was tested. Now, with the help of a sharing agreement with other processing plants in Southeast Alaska in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak, fishing crews will take their catch to other plants for processing.

“We have a crew of 10 in there who all tested negative who are all putting things to bed for the week. It’s going to be seamless for the fisherman, as we wanted and as we planned,” Erickson said. “The whole plant is being sanitized again. We’re using ozonated water for additional sanitation.”

Once the staff is cleared, they’ll return to work. The chance of the coronavirus being transmitted by packed food is low, Barr said.

“All of our people are wearing gloves and masks all the time in the plant. We’re taking every precaution. All you can do is err on the side of caution. Avoid large gatherings,” Erickson said. “Once we take care of this we’ll return to business with a healthy COVID-free staff.”

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, breathing trouble, sore throat, muscle pain and loss of taste or smell. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia that can be fatal.

People with symptoms, even mild ones, can call Juneau’s COVID-19 Screening Hotline at 586-6000, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or lockett@juneauempire.com.

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