Contact tracing begins for infected fishery worker

City considers ‘Orange Alert’ system for rapid outbreak response

Cordova Harbor. (June 17, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Cordova has its second coronavirus case, a recently arrived Ocean Beauty Seafoods employee, the city announced Wednesday, June 17. The coronavirus-positive individual is asymptomatic and is being isolated at a purpose-designated facility owned by Ocean Beauty, said Dr. Hannah Sanders, medical director for Cordova Community Medical Center.

Other workers in the same group as the coronavirus-positive individual tested negative, Sanders said. Contact tracing has begun and, over the next two weeks, those who may have had contact with the coronavirus-positive individual will be tested and re-tested, Sanders said.

“This is the reason that we have the intense screening effort that we’re doing,” Sanders said. “We want to identify cases before community members are exposed and before other processor employees are exposed. The process seems to be working. I’m still cautiously optimistic… We’re going to continue testing and isolating.”

Cordova’s first confirmed coronavirus case, identified May 1, was also an Ocean Beauty employee and was also asymptomatic. That person has since recovered.

As of June 17, 830 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Cordova, according to data released by the city prior to the announcement of the new positive case. Of those tests, 829 were negative. Community health care providers currently have the capacity to perform well over 1,000 tests, Mayor Clay Koplin said.

State and federal agencies have praised the timeliness and effectiveness of Cordova’s response to the pandemic, Koplin said at a June 17 Cordova City Council meeting. Local public health measures have worked well, and news of a second positive test should be no cause for alarm, Sanders said.

“I still want people outside, exercising, living their daily lives, just with a slight added social distance,” Sanders said.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell infected with coronavirus particles, isolated from a patient sample. (June 17, 2020) Image courtesy of NIAID

Orange Alert

At the June 17 meeting, Cordova City Council considered an emergency order that would create a system for rapidly re-escalating public health restrictions in response to a local coronavirus outbreak. Cordova’s proposed “Orange Alert” system was devised after the city of Whittier found itself on uncertain legal footing while responding to a local outbreak, Cordova City Manager Helen Howarth said.

“If, for some reason, we have to deviate from the state’s system because we have our own outbreak, we need to have a legal mechanism to do so,” Howarth told the council.

According to a draft plan presented to the council, an Orange Alert could be triggered by the city manager if data suggest there is an increase in coronavirus transmission in Cordova, or a substantial increase in transmission in neighboring communities; if local testing capacity diminishes or testing becomes locally unavailable; or if the city exhausts its capacity to care for coronavirus patients or is at risk of exhausting its supply of personal protective equipment.

An Orange Alert could also be triggered if local public health capacity is significantly impacted by the influx of workers and visitors. Under those conditions, any positive coronavirus test could possibly justify the temporary imposition of stricter social distancing rules, according to the draft plan.

The city would post announcements of an Orange Alert online and around the community, and city council members would be notified within 24 hours, according to the draft plan. Within five days of the declaration of Orange Alert status, the city council would hold an emergency meeting to approve or deny the declaration of “Local Orange” status, with input from the public.

The council unanimously voted to refer the resolution back to staff for further consideration. The basic usefulness of the Orange Alert system was challenged by Councilmen David Allison and Tom Bailer, who have criticized previous anti-coronavirus measures adopted by the city as unnecessarily complicated and restrictive.

“I view this as a solution looking for a problem,” Bailer said. “By no means is this needed… Why do we want to confuse the public? Why do we want to confuse people coming to this community?”

Councilwoman Cathy Sherman said she would not support the plan without the city’s unified command and medical teams giving it their recommendation. Sherman also said that adding orange to the state’s red-yellow-green alert system would be confusing for the public.

A fishing vessel approaches Cordova Harbor. (June 17, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Faltering local economy

Complications of the coronavirus pandemic and an inauspicious start to the fishing season have slowed the local economy. One accommodation business owner said that they expect to receive between one-fourth and one-third their usual level of business, Koplin said in an interview with Cordova Radio.

“The businesses are really feeling the financial impacts, and they’re encouraging reopening to the largest extent that we can,” Koplin said June 15.

Cordova students will return to class August 24, according to a new calendar issued by the school district, although it remains unclear in what format classes will be taught.