Coast Guard weathers outbreak

U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, located on the Newport Bayfront, goes back to routine operations Wednesday after a COVID-19 outbreak necessitated changes to scheduling and duty at the beginning of February. (Photo by Kenneth Lipp)

NEWPORT — A COVID-19 outbreak temporarily thinned the ranks at Station Yaquina Bay by about half earlier this month, but you’d never know it watching the U.S. Coast Guard operate.

Chief Warrant Officer Ryan O’Meara, the station’s commander, was among those required to quarantine after one of his fellow Coasties came down with coronavirus symptoms near the end of January. 

Six people ended up testing positive, and another 24 were required to quarantine after medical officers from Sector North Bend conducted contact tracing, O’Meara said. All six personnel experienced symptoms and have since recovered. They were able to isolate away from family, and no cases outside of the Coast Guard have been reported as a result of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the crew at the station continued doing what the Coast Guard does best: it managed risk.

Schedules were shifted to keep a full-boat crew on duty at all times, and reserves were called in. “I’m super grateful we were able to count on those guys, who stopped doing their own jobs to support us,” O’Meara said. 

They also had Depoe Bay and Siuslaw stations on standby to provide backup on missions, as well as add another layer of infection control. “Whatever we were going to do, we wouldn’t have had any exposure to the public. For example, if we had to do something that required us to board a boat for law enforcement, that would come from another station,” O’Meara said. 

“We were ready to go. We had plans on top of plans. There’s been no change in service to the community. What it required was for us to manage our own risk a little more in-depth.”

That meant cutting down on things like trainings to reduce fatigue while crew worked extra duty. “I am very proud of our members, they really stepped up. I had people who were literally working 18 days straight,” O’Meara said. Typical duty is no more than three days in a row. 

With all of the crew back from quarantine and isolation, O’Meara said they plan to resume routine operations Wednesday.

“We did all of our missions, we did all of our search and rescue cases, we did everything while at a degraded status,” O’Meara said. “Managing the risk is our number one job, and we actually got better at it. I watched a whole bunch of people step up above their pay grades.”

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