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Coronavirus Outbreaks Confirmed At Three Acadiana Crawfish Production Sites

Travis Lux
A crawfisher empties a net of wild-caught crawfish into his boat in the Atchafalaya Basin in the winter of 2018.

There are three new, clustered outbreaks of the coronavirus in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, at least one of which is at a crawfish production facility, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday afternoon.

Neither Edwards nor Assistant Health Secretary Dr. Alex Billioux named the three sites.

Update: Approximately 100 people across three crawfish farms in the Acadiana region have tested positive for COVID-19, Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) spokesperson Mindy Faciane said Monday evening.

Faciane said the workplaces represent “active, evolving, protected investigations,” and did not identify the crawfish farms by name, but said “LDH is working closely with these worksites to identify and minimize infection.”

When the outbreaks were first announced, only one outbreak site was confirmed as a crawfish farm. The state was still investigating the other two sites “to find out exactly how many people are in those facilities” and to “understand the scope of those clusters,” he added. When asked whether those two sites were also crawfish production facilities Billioux said, “My understanding is they are.”

“There was one outbreak in a group of workers who work on a crawfish farm and live, I think, in dormitory-like settings,” Billioux said.

Billioux said testing has been going on at that site, that multiple cases are under investigation, and people who are not known or suspected to be sick are “being kept separately from the people who are actually COVID-positive.”

At least some of those who tested positive were migrant workers, Billioux said. Migrant workers make up a significant portion of the workforce at seafood processing facilities in the state. They typically work on temporary guest-worker visas under the H-2A and H-2B programs.

According to the latest Department of Labor statistics compiled by the Louisiana State University AgCenter, there were 1,630 people working in seafood processing on H-2B visas in 2018.

Guest workers at crawfish processing facilities typically work under the H-2B program. The H-2A program is aimed at agricultural production, and employers are required to provide housing for those workers. Employers can offer housing to H-2B guest workers if they choose.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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