The City of Wrangell plans to provide up to $60,000 for a Oregon-based salmon processor to test its cannery workers for COVID-19. Local officials and the local plant manager say they’re working to have a plan ahead of the arrival of seasonal workers from out of state.
The Sea Level fish processor plans to bring 26 outside workers during the plant’s peak season through the end of October. But there’s concern that seasonal plant workers could introduce COVID-19 into the community.
City Manager Lisa Von Bargen told KSTK the city could pay for testing plant employees up to six times during the season.
“The city and borough of Wrangell is trying to do everything we can to help facilitate business being successful in the community while keeping the town safe,” she says.
Mayor Steve Prysunka said the $175 fee Wrangell’s hospital charges for each test could mean less frequent testing. He says the city is exploring cheaper options.
“But we have this fee and we’re attempting to make it as available and accessible and easy for the plant to do as much testing as they need,” he says.
The Wrangell Assembly agreed Wednesday to allocate up to $60,000 in federal stimulus funds to pay for it. That’s out of about $3.5 million in CARES Act funding it’s received to deal with the pandemic.
This decision comes on the eve of the first batch of Sea Level workers arriving in Wrangell. Plant Manager Rocky Caldero says three employees are expected; the rest will follow soon. Caldero confirmed this to KSTK but says he’s not authorized to speak on tape. He says visiting workers will be tested once in Oregon, then three times during their 14-day quarantine in Wrangell.
KSTK obtained Sea Level’s COVID-19 mitigation plan from a bulk records request to the state. It was last revised on April 27. It did not mention any regular testing of its workers.
Caldero says that’s because it was unclear whether testing would be available locally when it was drafted.
Emails from Wrangell Medical Center CEO Leatha Merculieff say Sea Level and Wrangell’s medical provider SEARHC first began discussing COVID-19 tests in the seafood plant about two weeks ago.
Sea Level’s plan describes its workers as being at a medium risk of virus exposure. It notes workers will at times work within six feet of potentially asymptomatic co-workers. Workers will wear face masks and eye guards at all times, except during breaks. Sea Level recommends its workers socially distance within the community. Any worker showing symptoms would be separated from their colleagues. If a worker tests positive for COVID-19, the plant would shut down to deep clean the facility.
Caldero says employees arriving later in the season could start work before the two-week quarantine is up. Those workers would be confined to the plant. But they could potentially interact with other workers, including those living in the community.