GRAB AND GO - Library patron Tina Johnson, left, and Joanna Perensovich, information services librarian, wear masks in the Sitka Library this afternoon. The library no longer has couches for patrons, but does have computer desks widely spaced apart for people to access for one-hour periods. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Grant To Expand Access to Testing

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The consortium providing medical and hospital services for Sitka is working to obtain a grant that will allow for testing of asymptomatic people in Sitka and the other Southeast communities it serves.

“We’re in the process of confirming that,” Dr. Elliot Bruhl, SEARHC vice president and chief medical officer, told the Unified Command at its meeting Wednesday.

Bruhl said the grant would allow SEARHC to provide testing free of charge to people regardless of whether they have symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.

“I think in the next 24 to 48 hours we’re going to get going forward with hiring temporary staff to allow us to implement that and also eventually some increased laboratory capacity,” Bruhl said.

Unified Command is a team of city government, health care, and emergency response representatives coordinating the local response to the pandemic. During the first part of Wednesday’s meeting, members gave short updates, and a recording was provided to the media.

Bruhl said the federal grant “will also broaden our abilities” to provide testing for such sectors as small businesses, tourist-related businesses and fishing industry.

“I’m also in conversations with (interim Superintendent John) Holst at the Sitka School District and communities we serve to hopefully be able to provide testing this fall to the school districts if they desire it,” Bruhl said. “So I think it’s really going to be a positive development.”

Bruhl also noted the “slow but steady increase” in the number of positive tests for COVID-19 virus in Southeast, particularly Juneau, Sitka and Wrangell.

“What we’ve been seeing is a mixture of folks in the fishing industry and general people in the community,” he said. “We haven’t been having any cases in our long-term care settings or other major congregant settings – some in some congregant settings with the fisheries and those have been addressed, I think very, very directly and very well.”

More information on asymptomatic testing will be provided once details are worked out, Bruhl told the group.

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing provided updated DHSS statistics for the state. 

Statistics from Thursday were: 44 new cases, with 25 residents of 11 communities: Anchorage (6), Fairbanks (6), Homer (3), Eagle River (2), North Pole (2), Bethel (1), Northern Kenai Peninsula (1), Palmer (1), Seward (1), Valdez (1) and Wasilla (1).

Nineteen new nonresident cases were also identified in:

– the combined Bristol Bay and Lake & Peninsula boroughs (9): nine in the seafood industry.

– municipality of Anchorage (2): one in the seafood industry and one in a visitor.

– City and Borough of Wrangell (2): two in the seafood industry Kenai Peninsula Borough (1): one in the seafood industry

– Valdez-Cordova Census Area (1): one in other industry

– Unknown (4): four locations are unknown at this time.

(The latest information and cumulative figures on Sitka cases is shown in the box on page 1.)

Sitka Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said that with contract tracers in short supply the state is training National Guard members to help.

Other unified command members, Thor Christianson, logistics, and Rob Janik, of the Sitka Fire Department, talked about their work acquiring more PPE and response equipment.

Janik, the EMS captain, said people from out of town have been calling the fire hall for advice before traveling.

“‘We’re coming to Sitka in three weeks. What do we need to do?’ And we’ve been welcoming those questions,” Janik said. “We’d rather make it simple and grease the skids for them to do the right thing, rather than playing catch-up. One of the advantages medicine has had is that prevention money is far more effective than response money. So if we can prevent disease from coming, it will protect our community just as well as using lights and sirens.”

SEARHC marketing and communications director Maegan Bosak said she’s getting an increasing number of questions about testing and results. She encouraged the use of the hotline 966-8799 for questions.

In his report, City Administrator John Leach said he’s keeping his eyes on a few areas to address, including accounting for those arriving by private plane, and - in the coming weeks, by ferry.

“I know there’s some testing requirements around traveling on the ferry, so we need to find out what the state is doing with those trips,” he said.

Leach also noted the local response is being coordinated through a closed group, and if members of the public want to provide or receive information they may contact their Assembly or the public information officers.

Assembly liaison Richard Wein, a medical doctor, said he would appreciate more specific information on those who have the virus, including whether they are mildly symptomatic or at risk of death.

“We need to change how we do some of the of the data aspects,” he said. Wein has been participating on a task force of the local fishing industry response to the pandemic.

Fire Chief Dave Miller said  testing at the airport seems to be going well, with some 30 of the 93 passengers arriving on a recent flight getting tested. He noted that he is impressing on his crew at the fire hall the importance of confidentiality when it comes to COVID cases.

“Whether they’re our patient or not that’s not our discussion,” he said.

Library Director Jessica Ieremia, who is one of the city’s information officers, said the state was reducing its news releases from daily to three times a week.

“This is a just to be able to get more accurate data out there,” Ieremia said. She also updated the group on the new “home collection” test kits, and the new video the city is working on to educate the public about COVID-19, testing and precautions.

“It will be going up at the airport to this week,” she said. Open captioning will be added, “so as it plays, you’re not going to be able to hear it at the airport, but they’ll be able to see it,” she said. “And then if we want to, we can also put that on our Facebook page, and replace that with what we have right now.”

The video is at:

https://cityofsitka.org/

 

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-10-20)

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 noon Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 51

Total statewide – 1,323

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 5 (2 resident; 3 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 13 (11 resident; 2 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 80.

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

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

 

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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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