In-Person Schools Open Here Aug. 31

Category: Local News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2020 15:31

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

A Sitka School District task force is continuing work on its first draft of a plan for opening schools for in-person instruction in the fall.

“And it’s looking more and more like we may be opening most of the buildings as of Monday, the thirty-first of August,” Interim School District Superintendent John Holst told the Sitka Unified Command coronavirus response group Wednesday.

Holst was providing his weekly update to the group of healthcare, emergency response and city representatives who meet Wednesday afternoons at the fire hall. (The public information officer, Sara Peterson, provided a recording for this story.)

Holst said he’s received rough drafts for three of the five district schools.

“They believe they could do distancing inside the building,” he said. “They figured out how to use staff in the spaces to get the numbers down.”

Drafts for each building’s plans should be turned in by July 15, Holst said. “We’ll probably share them then with the community and see if we get any feedback that’s helpful and we’ll adjust accordingly.”

In her update, Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing told the group that two age ranges are continuing to make up the highest percentages of positive tests for the COVID-19 virus in the state.

“We’re looking at two age ranges that make up the majority of cases right now,” Ewing said. “Ages 20 to 29 are making up 21.53 percent; ages 30 to 39 are making up 19.74 percent.”

Some 133,400 COVID-19 tests have been administered throughout the state since the start of the coronavirus emergency, Ewing said. The state has an ICU bed capacity of 169, of which 69 are occupied for medical care of all kinds; and the state “ventilator capacity” is 284, of which 262 are available.

Ewing spends the majority of her time on contact tracing and notifying those who were in contact with the persons who tested positive.

She said that as of midnight Tuesday Sitka had 14 cases, including 10 “recoveries.”

“There are three closed cases that I’ve just closed and I have right now four open cases,” she said. “So four open active cases, one being a resident of Alaska and three being nonresident.”

The most recent positive test results, received Tuesday and Wednesday, were for seasonal seafood workers.

The city’s other public information officer, Jessica Ieremia, reported on ongoing public information officer issues around the state. 

Most recently, she said, the city of Anchorage put out a list of bars and restaurants where people said they had spent “extended time” before testing positive.

“It was met with a lot of likes and dislikes,” Ieremia said. “So there’s some controversy to that. So that other communities can kind of learn or kind of see what Anchorage did and see if you would want to follow up on that.”

Other conversations among PIOs in the state included a discussion on symptoms for the younger age groups. She said symptoms for children and teens are “generally milder,” and the number of cumulative hospitalizations for the same age group were lower than for influenza.

Ieremia also said the Alaska Marine Highway System is working on setting up a testing plan similar to the ones used at airports.

From SEARHC, Marketing and Communications Director Maegan Bosak said plans are being made for the start of a free testing program for the Sitka general public this weekend. The testing, by self-administered nasal swab, will be offered 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the drive-up testing site in the parking lot of the old Sitka Community Hospital.

All that’s needed is contact information, date of birth and gender. No appointments or referrals required, and it’s not necessary to show ID, Bosak said.

On a question of setting up testing for Sitka School District employees before the planned start of school, Bosak said SEARHC would be happy to make arrangements.

      City Administrator John Leach and Chief Finance and Administrative Officer Jay Sweeney talked about some of the logistics of getting reimbursed for costs incurred responding to the pandemic, including from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state.