According to a confidential source, a planned influx of hundreds of seasonal cannery workers to Kodiak has prompted serious concern among some Providence Kodiak staff that a COVID-19 outbreak could quickly overwhelm the hospital’s capacity.
Commercial fishery operations, including canneries, have been deemed “essential” by the State of Alaska and are excluded from orders that have shuttered many other businesses. Kodiak’s Ocean Beauty Seafoods and other cannery operators have recruited nationally to fill hundreds of seasonal positions. According to the source, some recruiting has targeted West Coast communities especially hard-hit by COVID-19. Cannery workers will not be tested for COVID-19 unless they present symptoms, and will live and work in close quarters. Research indicates that a significant proportion of COVID-19 carriers do not present symptoms, and are often unaware that they carry the virus. Questions have also been raised about the accuracy of many COVID-19 tests.
According to the source, Providence Kodiak has only six ventilators and two ICU beds, and the hospital’s supply of sedatives is only sufficient to accommodate two patients for two weeks. Almost all patients on a ventilator must be sedated in order to avoid a panic response that can cause high pulmonary pressure and severe medical complications. Moreover, the source told the Landmine, medevac services are limited or unavailable in some parts of Kodiak island, and some providers of medical evacuations have stated that they will not transport suspected COVID-19 patients due to concerns for pilot safety.
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A March 23 press release by Ocean Beauty Seafoods describes additional safety measures at the company, and states that “the focus of our reactive plan is to protect against employee exposure while ensuring an uninterrupted supply of our goods and services.”
The situation on Kodiak mirrors those in many coastal communities around Alaska, where highly seasonal economies depend on huge influxes of seasonal workers. Though many Alaska seafood processors have promised to enact new safety procedures, it is unclear whether a significant outbreak in a commercial facility could be identified or contained in time to prevent it from spreading to a nearby community. As Craig Medred reported in an April 10 article, some meat and salmon-processing facilities in the lower 48 have been sites of significant COVID-19 outbreaks.
Kodiak reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on April 15.