New COVID test key to save Alaskan salmon season and fishing jobs

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In the Aleutian Islands of Alaska is the isolated town of Unalaska, home to just over 4,300 people who work primarily in the commercial fishing and seafood processing industry. Thousands of fishermen migrate to the port of Dutch Harbor to participate in the Unalaska salmon season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) annual fishing statistics yearbook has ranked Dutch Harbor as the top US port for seafood volume for 22 consecutive years. The agency’s latest report, release in February 2020, found that the port imported 763 million pounds of seafood, worth around $ 182 million, in 2018.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has created new problems for residents and visitors to the small town.

The MS Roald Amundsen on the quayside in Unalaska-Dutch Harbor, Alaska (iStock)

In an effort to save the upcoming Unalaska salmon season and local jobs, the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new partnership with Cue Health, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic products, to increase testing capabilities of the region.

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Alaska Health and Human Services Testing Coordinator Dr Coleman Cutchins told FOX Business that Unalaska is an area with very limited healthcare infrastructure.

The city has only one local clinic that performs COVID-19 tests, which must then send samples to labs that can be thousands of miles away, with average testing times of between seven and 10 days. Unalaska’s cold weather, which can drop to as low as 30 and 40 negatives, can make transporting samples difficult as test cartridges would freeze, Cutchins added.

To make matters worse, Cutchins noted that local Unalaska fishermen operate in a collective living environment.

“It’s shoulder to shoulder depending on the processing chain. It’s a very difficult industry to be able to use, you know, non-pharmacological interventions like we did all through COVID before the vaccine,” he said. declared Cutchins. “It’s just one of those industries that doesn’t really allow masking and distancing. Frequent testing with quick results is really what they needed.”

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These living conditions sparked a wave of epidemics at local processing plants in January, according to seafood industry medical consultant and Discovery Health MD CEO Dr Ann Jarris.

“Even the boats that have not been hit by [COVID] couldn’t let go, ”Jarris said.

Jarris blamed the outbreaks on COVID-19 variants, the increased spread in the community, and Unalaska’s initial testing program, which she says is missing about three in 10 people.

“There’s just more disease out there, you know, just a few people sneaking into these dense populations,” Jarris said. “It’s just a forest fire.”

In addition, the pre-entry requirements of Unalaska for out-of-town fishermen, which require a two-week quarantine in a hotel and a negative COVID-19 test before being chartered to Alaska , turned out to be a costly investment for an average salmon sub-season in 2020.

“Companies spent tens of millions of dollars on these pre-entry quarantine programs and it ended a season that was probably not very good,” Jarris said.

According to a report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the state’s 2020 commercial salmon harvest caught 118.3 million fish, about 14.4 million fewer fish than expected. pre-season of 132.7 million fish. The southern Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian region, which includes Unalaska, accounted for over 7.23 million fish in the total catch.

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The Cue Health monitoring system is a FDA cleared, portable, compact, point-of-care nasal swab test that can be used at home without a prescription.

Using a reusable battery-powered cartridge reader, Cue Health’s test is able to deliver results in about 20 minutes, which are then delivered electronically through an app on a user’s smartphone. According to a Mayo Clinic Study, the Cue Health test was found to be 97.8% accurate compared to benchmark laboratory tests.

In addition to Alaska, the Cue test is being tested in nine other states – Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah – as part of a government program with government departments. Health and Humanity. Services and Defense. The federal government’s $ 481 million award allowed Cue Health to expand its production capacity and deploy 6 million of its COVID-19 tests in March.

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Since the launch of the pilot program, Cutchins says Alaska has been able to perform an average of about 10,000 Cue Health tests per month, in addition to other rapid molecular testing systems that have been deployed statewide. Meanwhile, in Unalaska, cumulative tests performed locally have now reached just over 8,500, according to the the latest city data.

Jarris believes that taking the Cue tests was “invaluable at the most desperate time.”

“Suddenly we were able to quantify the extent of the problem,” Jarris said. “We could test symptomatic people, we could screen asymptomatic people, we can make decisions about isolation and quarantine and close contact and you can go back to work. We were not only able to bring the epidemic under control, but also prevent it from spreading in the community. “

“I would say it was an essential tool to protect the food supply and save lives,” she added.

Going forward, preliminary forecasts from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game project that the 2021 season catch will exceed 190 million fish from the 118.3 million in 2020. It is expected that this will be the case. that the southern Alaska peninsula be in the “excellent” category with a total catch estimate of 12.9 million fish.

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Cue plans to further expand the use of its test to help the effort to return to in-person learning in schools and to reopen economies nationwide.

From commercial fishing in Alaska to back to in-person learning in Pennsylvania, Cue’s COVID-19 test, a real-time, lab-grade, connected, end-to-end diagnostic solution that fits in the palm of your hand. your hand, help reopen the economy, ”Clint Sever, co-founder and product manager of Cue Health, told FOX Business in a statement. “As we move forward, testing will continue to empower people to take charge of their lives, and Cue is proud to play a pivotal role in improving access to important diagnostic solutions. “

The improved testing capabilities come as more than 531,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the state of Alaska, with more than 292,000 people receiving at least one dose and more than 252,000 people fully vaccinated, according to state health ministry data. In Unalaska, 3,701 vaccines had been administered as of April 23.

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