Report: COVID Panel braces for possible cases in Sitka

    Sitka, Alaska (KINY) - Sitka’s city, emergency response and healthcare leaders continue working together on preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    According to the Daily Sitka Sentinel, at its regular weekly meeting Wednesday afternoon at the fire hall, the Sitka’s Unified Command touched base on the community’s actions so far to continue its work to prevent and slow the spread of the virus, and prepare for the first cases here.

    “The alligators closest to the boat right now, is just continuing to mitigate the spread,” said City Administrator John Leach, incident commander. “We still don’t have any cases here.”

    But he said it’s important to keep getting out information on staying home – among other preventative measures – and anticipate the next curveball that could hit the city, such as the arrival of seasonal workers.

    A number of top city staff members, with new duties as assigned under the COVID response, were at the meeting, including fire hall personnel, school district co-assistant superintendent Phil Burdick, Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing, and Thor Christianson, who volunteered for the position as a logistics section chief. (Christianson, resource manager of Southeast Region EMS, is a longtime fire department volunteer and a member of the City and Borough Assembly.)

    All of those attending the meeting maintained the six-foot separation from each other recommended in guidelines.

    Leach summarized that the city and others on the unified command team are doing as much as they can to meet their five defined objectives: to mitigate spread, care for the sick, test and vaccinate, mitigate the financial impacts, and inform the public.

    “With the state mandates, the resolution we put in place, and the travel restrictions, I’m not sure what other measures we can take other than put the public message out to stay indoors as much as possible, practice social distancing, cough into your elbow ...”

    COVID-19 mandates imposed by the state restrict personal travel and require two weeks of quarantine after traveling to Alaska, among other rules. Mandates that were to run through the end of March have been extended.

    The city resolution the Assembly passed last week call on Sitkans to shelter in place and observe social distancing outside their homes. Non-critical businesses were ordered to close their doors to the public. The definition of “critical businesses” is broad and includes grocery and hardware stores and news media.

    SEARHC said today that the newly confirmed Juneau case was a SEARHC patient.

    “It’s the first in the consortium, so that escalates our plans and preparedness levels,” SEARHC communications director Maegan Bosak, said today. The test was taken at an alternative – drive-up – testing site.

    Bosak provided an update today, and explained why SEARHC, which provides healthcare services throughout Southeast Alaska, has not given out information on the number of tests performed in Sitka:

    “To date, SEARHC has performed 232 tests (region-wide), 172 are negative, 58 are pending, and one (1) is a confirmed SEARHC patient case in Juneau. Many of our communities are very small and there are privacy concerns. To protect patient and provider privacy, SEARHC will not be providing community-specific information on negative testing. Negative testing has no impact on the safety of the community. Public health officials will alert the community when we are notified of a confirmed COVID-19 case.”

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