Norton Sound Region of Alaska Gears Up to Protect Against COVID-19

Fisheries entities in the Norton Sound region of western Alaska geared up in May to protect harvesters, processors and communities in that region from the spread of the COVID-19 virus causing a worldwide pandemic.

Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation announced on Tuesday, May 12, that the company was developing a community and workforce protection plan to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities where NSEDC and Norton Sound Seafood Products operate. The focus of NSEDC’s plan is to eliminate or limit the movement of individuals between regional communities as much as possible.

For its seafood plants and buying stations, NSEDC said it plans to only hire residents currently in those communities where they operate. They also plan to isolate vessel crews to keep them from interacting with communities and residents as they move through the region in support of the fishery. The plan also includes measures to keep individuals distanced from each other as they work, plus protective measures for when social distancing is not possible.

Once the plan is finalized, NSEDC said it would be made available to member communities on the NSEDC website.

The state of Alaska meanwhile issued its 18th health mandate related to the pandemic, noting that travel between communities on the road system and in-state travel by the Alaska Marine Highway System is permitted, but that travel is still prohibited between communities off the road system that are not served by the ferry system. The only exceptions would be travel supporting critical infrastructure or critical personal needs.

Meanwhile on the eve of the opening of the wild salmon commercial fisheries a group of federal, state and tribal health officials visited several coastal fishing communities to listen to community concerns and determine what additional resources are needed to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus into communities and participants in the fisheries.

The group included Dr. Alexander Eastman, senior medical officer at the US Department of Homeland Security, and Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Part of the group traveled to Nome yesterday to speak with Norton Sound Health Corp. officials about sanitation issues. Today the entire group is to visit Kodiak and Cordova to meet with local officials and representatives of the fishing industry.
Through May 19, the Nome area had one individual testing positive for the virus.