More West Coast coasters contracted the coronavirus last month than all of last year, adding to pressure on spare ports already struggling to keep up, according to the Pacific Maritime Association. import flows, according to the Pacific Maritime Association.
The maritime group said that at least 1,850 people living ashore had contracted the coronavirus in January, surpassing the 1,624 cases recorded for all of 2021.
“It’s been a heavy hit,” said James McKenna, president of the consortium that negotiates labor agreements for 70 companies in 29 West Coast ports.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which account for about 40% of US imports, have been particularly hard hit. Mr. McKenna said cases there accounted for about 80% of the 1,850 infections reported on Thursday.
The staggeringly high number comes as 90 container ships off San Pedro Bay, a record number, are waiting to dock in Los Angeles and Long Beach, as of Friday. The absence of shipbuilders is contributing to an exacerbation of months-long congestion. “Before the pandemic, you wouldn’t have any ships waiting, they would come in and go out,” Mr McKenna said.
The increase in cases among shipbuilders has somewhat paralleled the rise of the Omicron variant across California, which currently appears to be flat.
Federal and state authorities have designated port workers as essential workers during the pandemic because of their vital role in maintaining the nation’s supply chains. There are 23,000 seafarers working in West Coast ports, and 15,000 in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The year started with about 150 new cases reported each day among West Coast shipbuilders. By mid-January, that rate had dropped to about 100, and by Friday it had dropped to about 60 new cases a day.
However, a positive test forces many workers to comply, as contact tracing identifies others who will be quarantined. “It has a ripple effect across the workforce,” said Mr. McKenna.
A record cargo volume arrived on the West Coast in 2021, colliding with the introduction of the Delta variant. At least 16 beachgoers have died by 2021 and many more have been hospitalized.
Omicron has so far packed a less powerful punch, Mr. McKenna said. There have been no deaths this year, and beachgoers are less likely to be hospitalized or taken out, he said, than in the past.
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