PERFECT WEATHER – Surfers assess the waves at Sandy Beach this morning. Waves were between 14- and 20-feet today. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Grant To Expand Access to Testing

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:




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August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:


On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff


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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 11-24-20)

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 12:25 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 578

Total statewide – 27,669

Total (cumulative) deaths – 115

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 619

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

The City of Sitka posted the following update on COVID-19 cases in Sitka as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Active cases in Sitka – 29

Hospitalizations in Sitka – 3

Cumulative Sitka cases – 176 (155 resident; 21 non-resident)

Cumulative recovered – 147 cumulative

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.




November 2000

Photo caption: A painting by the late Dr. Walt Massey hangs on the wall of the Pioneers Home dining room,. bringing smiles from home administrator Julie Smith and Massey’s son Brian and daughter-in-law Amy, the home’s dietary manager. The painting of early-day Sitka was done in 1971, the year Dr. Massey, an optometrist and artist, died. It originally hung in the Canoe Club and was given by the restaurant’s owner, Frank Richards, to local historian Joe Ashby, who gave it to the Pioneers Home.

November 1970

Photo  caption: Sitka High School band director James Hope receives a check for $2,000 from American Legion Post 13 Commander Carroll Kohler. The Legion had voted to contribute $1,000 for uniforms and the Auxiliary voted to match that amount. The check was presented at the Legion’s Veterans Day banquet.