ALL IN THE SAME TACO BOAT – Sitkans, many wearing face masks, line up this afternoon at the Sitka Elks Lodge food booth. With the pandemic, most of this year’s Sitka Independence Day events have been modified, but not entirely canceled. The American Legion and Sizzling Chow Cuisine also will have outdoor food booths. While there’s no downtown parade, there is a parade of classic cars that will tour Sitka streets beginning at 1 p.m. at Whale Park. A sing-along and military salute will take place on Totem Square 7 p.m. Friday and a fireworks display will take place 11:30 Friday night over Sitka Channel, with spectators asked to follow social distancing recommendations. The Rotary Club is holding its annual Duck Race on the fourth. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Testing Now Offered To Sitka Businesses

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

In line with the state’s “responsible reopening” plan -– and with weather improving -– city officials are getting requests about resuming business and social activities that have been shut down by the pandemic.

“Activities are starting to ask permission on how they can proceed with some of their plans within the state’s guidelines,” said City Administrator John Leach at Wednesday’s weekly meeting of the Sitka Unified Command.

The Unified Command, an ad hoc group of city government, health, public safety and emergency representatives, coordinates the local response to the coronavirus emergency.

“We are continuing to watch the data, watch the numbers and proceed responsibly,” Leach said.

An audio copy of the updates portion of the meeting was used for this story.

Leach also took note of the positive COVID-19 case in Sitka that was reported Monday.

Dr. Elliot Bruhl, chief medical officer and vice president of SEARHC, followed up with a report of the asymptomatic patient, a woman in her 30s who is now quarantining.

“We continue to stay in contact with the patient,” Bruhl said. “We’ve been working with the state on contact tracing and tracing within our organization.”

“We’ve tested over 50 individuals and, all have tested negative,” he said.

SEARHC is also testing its own employees every two weeks.

“We’ve not had any employees that have tested positive, but we have a very vigorous, straightforward protocol that allows us to manage and ultimately safely return to work,” he said. 

Bruhl said SEARHC continues to focus on creating a safe clinical environment to continue providing healthcare at the SEARHC facilities throughout Sitka.

“We continue with universal masking for all patients, and for all clinicians in the clinical environment,” he said. “We’re screening everybody at the door of all of our clinical environments and we’re also pre-screening everybody on the phone before they arrive.”

Patients are tested before undergoing elective procedures, and those who are traveling to the clinical facilities before they are cared for, Bruhl said.

“We’re doing all that work to help the public to stay safe when they’re getting care, but also to help them to trust the advice that we’ve been giving everyone, which is that they should not be delaying essential care,” Bruhl said.

SEARHC is also working with private businesses to set up memorandums of understanding for having SEARHC test employees.

“I know I’ve signed over a dozen of those in the last week and that includes fish processors, and other private businesses – that includes the trooper academy,” he said.

Bruhl said testing is “helpful” as part of a broader mitigation plan that includes other safety measures such as personal hygiene, masking and adequate separation of employees in the work environment.

“The fish processing industry has been very engaged and collaborative in that process,” Bruhl said. “They’re not just testing people and then continuing with work as usual, but they’re incorporating testing into a much broader mitigation plan. As you know, these plans have been submitted to the city.”

He also provided updates on acquiring more testing supplies and capabilities.

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC communication director, echoed some of Bruhl’s comments.

Sitka Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing also gave a report to the group on a number of topics. She added today that 27 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Alaska Sunday, a record high for any single day so far.

“This is not a surprise to us,” she said today. “We knew when the state opened up we would see new cases. This is nothing to be alarmed about. However, we need to continue to be diligent and keep health precautions as stated by the governor on Sunday.”

Ewing told the Sitka group that she and others are working with the state Section of Epidemiology on a “self-testing plan” for rural areas in the state. She said for the last two weeks she also has been working with the business community on reopening plans.

“It’s been a pleasure working with them and being able to walk through their areas and talk to the staff,” she said. “It’s reassuring to them and we’ve come up with some great ideas that they can put into place, and that helps Sitka stay safe.” 

Ewing said as of Wednesday the state of Alaska had a stock of 345 ventilators, with 26 in use, not solely for COVID. She said that 72 of Alaska’s 195 ICU beds were in use as of Wednesday.

Assembly liaison Richard Wein, who is a medical doctor, reported on what he has learned in scientific discussions about COVID.

He spoke of “superspreaders” - individuals, who may be asymtomatic, who have been identified as spreading the virus more than others. He said in general 20 percent of the cases are responsible for 80 percent of the local transmission, according to recent scientific studies he’s read. 

Wein also spoke of the differences in virus spread between those in open and closed environments. He brought up cruise ships and bunkhouses for seasonal workers as examples.

“So boats (cruise ships) and all these different environments present different things for us,” he said. “I also bring this up because we are a tourist community and these types of things we are going to have to take into consideration when we do mitigation here in Sitka.”

City Planning Director Amy Ainslie talked about work she’s doing to collect information from fellow city staff members about city projects that might be eligible for CARES Act funding.

Sara Peterson, city public information officer, introduced Sitka’s new library director, Jessica Iermina, who will be helping with PIO duties. Peterson drew attention to the new signs going up around town urging people to keep following precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The challenge right now is to maintain interest in the community and get people to continue to listen to this message,” she said. “Being creative in that and finding new ways to talk about washing your hands, social distancing and all of those things. Since we are kind of really at the starting gate with all of this and we have a ways to go.”

She said the city will work with the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sitka on a video to encourage Sitka newcomers to follow precautions.

Bruhl agreed that continuing to push precautions is important, regardless of diligent efforts over the past few months.

“One of the things we’ve been emphasizing with our employees that I think people in the public need to recognize is that it’s not a black and white issue,” Wein said. “We’re not living in an either/or moment, even though many people would like to view this as an either/or moment. It’s understandable. 

“We’re all really exhausted by the work that we’ve had to do to get to this point and the normal response at this point is ‘I just really would like to have this in the rearview mirror.’ But the reality is that it’s a false dichotomy. ... What we’re faced with as a community is the challenge of opening up the economy while simultaneously keeping ourselves – and particularly our vulnerable patients and our elderly members of the community - safe.”

That means continuing to take responsibility for the “really simple things” needed to keep people safe.

“We’re not making that up - that’s based on science,” Bruhl said. “It’s based on the science of epidemiology. It’s best medical practice: simple things like washing our hands, keeping our distance from people when we’re in a group settings and wearing masks to protect one another.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-2-20)

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 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.

New cases as of Monday: 39

Total statewide – 1,017

Total (cumulative) deaths – 14

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (6 resident; 2 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 10 (7 resident; 3 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 68.

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.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

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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