Bering Sea fishermen likely had COVID-19 and still went to Unalaska bar. Now, locals have to quarantine.

A redish wooden uilding with a sign that says "norwegian rat"  in a foggy location
Quarantine and testing is recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated and visited the Norwegian Rat Saloon after 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 10, due to possible COVID-19 exposure. (Maggie Nelson/KUCB)

This story has been updated at 9:30 am on April 13, 2021.

Unvaccinated people who visited Unalaska’s Norwegian Rat Saloon late Saturday are being asked to quarantine this week after officials say they shared the space with fishermen who broke their company’s own quarantine plans while they were awaiting COVID-19 testing results.

The fishermen came from a United States Seafoods vessel where COVID-19 cases were suspected, but still visited the popular bar after 10 p.m., Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders said Monday. 

“There was a vessel that came into town on Saturday, and on that vessel, there’s been 26 confirmed individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 and then two additional presumed positive for COVID-19,” Reinders said. “There was a breach in the company’s isolation plan with some of those positive individuals, and due to that breach, that did cause a community exposure.”

Reinders said the fishing company is working on its plan for isolation and quarantine of its 51-person crew aboard the factory trawler Seafreeze America. She didn’t say whether they are quarantining on or off the boat.

The city, meanwhile, is considering what kind of action it could take against the crew members who knew they may have been COVID-positive and still breached quarantine to visit the saloon, said Reinders. 

They could face up to a $500 fine, and the city’s Department of Public Safety is “fully engaged” in the discussion, Reinders said. 

Meanwhile, Monday afternoon, the city raised the local coronavirus risk level from “medium” to “high.” The island had been at the lower threshold for nearly a month and a half. The Unalaska City Council is expected to discuss implementing additional health measures at its meeting Tuesday night.

“Once there has been two weeks of no additional community spread cases in Unalaska, consideration may be given to step down to medium risk,” the city said in a statement. “With the vaccine widely available and yesterday’s notice, we hope the impact of this exposure will be limited.”

The Norwegian Rat is a popular spot for both fishermen and locals, with pool tables and shuffleboard, and it’s the closest bar to the docks used by many large fishing vessels. Saturday was margarita and taco night.

People who were at the bar after 10 p.m. don’t have to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated — meaning that it’s been at least two weeks since their final vaccine dose. That’s also the case for people who have tested positive and recovered in the past three months, according to CDC guidance. 

But quarantine and testing is recommended for those who are not fully vaccinated.

Reinders urged all Unalaskans to get vaccinated to prevent similar situations in the future. And she said people should continue following local and statewide health guidance.

“Really remember to keep wearing your mask, limit your gathering size, stay out of large group gatherings, keep washing your hands and stay six-plus feet away from other folks,” she said.

Testing is encouraged as early as five days following potential exposure to COVID-19, and people should monitor for symptoms and minimize contact with others during that time.

Unalaska City School District Superintendent John Conwell said in an email to staff and families that Unalaska schools will remain open for now.

This story has been updated to name the vessel where the crewmembers came, and to provide information about the city’s alert status.

Previous articleAnchorage mayor loosens pandemic restrictions, plus adds incentive to get vaccinated
Next articleInterior Department chooses Native woman for top Alaska advisor