FULL FIELD – Bathtub toy ducks float down Granite Creek toward a finish line at Halibut Point Recreation Area Saturday afternoon during the annual Sitka Rotary Club duck race. First place, two Alaska Airlines round-trip tickets, were won by Ron and Leah Kari. This year all 3,500 ducks were sold by June 14. Money raised at the event is donated to dozens of Sitka non-profits. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Legislator on COVID Metric Team

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is working on two fronts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One front is working within the Legislature, and the other is the creation of an interactive website that Kreiss-Tomkins hopes will “help make better decisions to prevent deaths, weeks and months down the road.”

     Kreiss-Tomkins, who represents Sitka and other Southeast communities, said the Legislature continued meeting as usual - including the weekend – in the state capitol building, with some “nonessential staff” working from home. No lobbyists or members of the public are allowed in the committee meeting rooms, as a coronavirus precaution.

“I think it’s ill-advised to have the population density we have in the building,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “There’s a lot of people in the building who don’t need to be.”

    But the Legislature’s legal counsel has said that working remotely is not an option for the Legislature at this time to pass actions that are binding, and there is work to do, in particular related to addressing the pandemic.

    To that end, Kreiss-Tomkins joined other legislators in fast-tracking a bill to expand unemployment benefits to address the statewide economic downturn (House Bill 308).

    “That’s incredibly relevant to any Sitkan affected by an inability to work because of the public health actions,” he said. “Alaska unemployment benefits are literally the worst in the country, and should’ve been fixed years ago but there’s never been the political will.”

    The bill is continuing to move through the Legislature and is expected to be forwarded to the governor this week.

    Kreiss-Tomkins said the Department of Labor has indicated it has the personnel to process the increased number of applications expected.

    Also, Alaska’s request for help through the federal Small Business Administration was approved over the weekend. Alaskans can now apply for small business loans, and help is available through the Alaska Small Business Development Center, Kreiss-Tomkins’ aide Kevin McGowan said.

   On the public health front, the governor is the one able to make the call on such actions as school closures, but Kreiss-Tomkins says he is working on a tool that might make decisions easier - here and across the U.S.

    To that end, he joined a team to create a website to show hospitalization predictions based on prevention strategies, and emphasizing the need for quick action. The main goal is still slowing and preventing the spread of the virus, so that the health care system isn’t overwhelmed with too many cases at once.

    The website covidactnow.org is a website for public leaders and health officials, explaining “Why you must act now.”

    “The only thing that matters right now is the speed of your response,” the website says. The website notes at the top: “This model is intended to help make fast decisions, not predict the future.”

    The website is interactive, allowing the visitor to click on a state to see the hospitalization estimations over time, according to intervention and prevention strategies selected by the states. There is a point for some strategies where hospitalizations exceed capacities.

    Moving your cursor, you can see how actions for three months will determine at which point – if ever – Alaska’s infection rates will exceed hospital capacity.

    The options are:

    – three months of no action, with hospitalizations exceeding capacity around the second week of April.

    – three months of social distancing, with hospitalizations exceeding capacity later in April.

    – three months of shelter in place, with hospitalizations never exceeding capacity.

    – three months of Wuhan-style lockdown, with hospitalizations never exceeding capacity.

    For each state taking no action, there’s a “point of no return,” when any action will be too late.

The response to a change in the input can be seen in a new date for a projected outcome. For example, the date for “exceeding capacity” as a result of  “three months of no action,” will be extended for each improvement made in preventive measures, such as a move up to “three months of social distancing.”

Kreiss-Tomkins said traffic to the website, which was put together by data scientists in the San Francisco Bay area in six days, has “exploded” in the last three days.

    The director of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted it on Twitter.

    “It’s very much a tool that’s trying to support data-driven decisions about how best to understand what’s happening,” he said.

    Kreiss-Tomkins, the only non-San Francisco member of the website development team, has been reaching out and getting responses from all over the country. The municipality of Anchorage cited the webpage in its “shelter in place” press release.

    “People are getting the tool, and looking at the data,” he said. “We hope it will help us make better decisions to prevent deaths weeks and months down the road.”

    Like many Americans and Alaskans, Kreiss-Tomkins’ has been learning more, and becoming more concerned about, the growing spread of the virus.

One member of the San Francisco team is an old friend of Kreiss-Tomkins from the days they worked on the Howard Dean presidential campaign. Kreiss-Tomkins was 13 or 14 at the time, and the two maintained the connection.

    Other members of the Covidactnow team are engineers, data scientists and designers, working in partnership with epidemiologists, public health officials and political leaders to help understand how the pandemic will affect their state.

    “The reason they called me is they thought I would add value to the team in getting this out across the country, and be able to convert what’s a really great tool into something that will have a maximum value and impact with decision-makers, public health officials and the public at large,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.   

    The website said the tool was built to answer such questions as:

What will the impact be in my region and when can I expect it?

How long until my hospital system is under severe pressure?

What is my menu of interventions, and how will they address the spread of coronavirus?

    Some Alaskan communities have already taken action, with a number of communities recommending “shelter in place.”

    “We’re not quite a statewide shelter in place,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. But he said Alaska is ahead of the game in some ways than a number of states that have resisted taking action.

    “It’ll be scary to see what happens there,” he said. In Alaska, he added, “There’s a lot to be concerned about, but Alaska is doing comparatively well in terms of data and our government’s response.”

    What else did he want Sitkans to know?

    “One, it’s incredibly important to follow those advisories and mandates to the letter. Not interact with other people you are not living with. If all Alaskans do that we’ll be in a better place.

    “And two, this is not just a flash in the pan. This is not going to be over in three or four weeks. This virus is so virulent and infectious it’s going to change our economy and society for the duration of this year. It’s going to take a lot of resilience and patience to get through it. ... It’s important for people to gird themselves: we’re all going to be in it together.”

    But there is reasonable cause for hope as well, he added. If there is an aggressive response – and the public follows follow directives to shelter in place – it will buy time for solutions. He cited the Philips company redirecting resources for ventilator production as an example.

    Another cause for hope is that the global scientific community is studying the virus, with an eye to developing therapeutic drugs to reduce the lethality of the virus.

    “It’s not a vaccine, but it will make it much less bad, less evil – that could or could not happen,” he added. “There’s a reasonable chance that therapeutics can be identified that will make this disease kill less people. If that can happen, that’s a huge victory for humanity. If we can buy time to give the global scientific community time to figure that out, if we can buy time, there’s reasonable hope for that.”

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-6-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 1:25 p.m. Monday.

New cases as of Sunday: 28

Total statewide – 1,166

Total (cumulative) deaths – 16

Active cases in Sitka – 6 (3 resident; 3 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 12 (10 resident; 2 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 74.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

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The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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