“We’re scared”. Is Bristol Bay, whose population is expected to triple in size in a few weeks, walking into a coronavirus timebomb?
Propublica reports that the health care system in southwestern Alaska may be unsuited for the influx of fisherman and seasonal workers that are expected to arrive in the next coming weeks. Residents and tribal groups said they are worried the system may not be able to cope during the coronavirus outbreak.
The salmon run has a large economic impact, generating over USD 280 million directly to fishermen and supports about 14,000 seafood-related jobs. Dillingham, Alaska, is the economic, transportation hub for western Bristol Bay, and facilities for fish processing, cold storage for Icicle, Peter Pan, and Trident’s fish processing plants.
However, the publication reported that there is only a 16-bed hospital in Dillingham operated by the Bristol Bay Area Health Corp for the mass arrival. Only four beds are currently equipped for coronavirus patients, it wrote. The town is also 320 miles from Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. SalmonBusiness reported on Tuesday that one of the main air flight carriers RavnAir Group grounded all of its 72 planes.
Lecia Scotford, COO at Bristol Bay’s regional health corporation responsible for the only hospital left the company after she sent an email to other managers downplaying the coronavirus pandemic saying it was no worse than the flu and part of a political conspiracy, reported KDLG.
“We’re scared. People come from all over the world for Bristol Bay fishing,” said Gayla Hoseth, the second chief for the Dillingham-based Curyung Tribal Council to Propublica. “There’s 7,000 of us who live here, and this hospital cannot handle the 7,000 of us if we get sick. Imagine (when) our population triples and quadruples in the summertime.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasted that a total of 48.95 million sockeye salmon are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2020.