CHECKING IT OUT – Fia Turczynewycz, a visitor from Ohio, walks her dog,  Mani, past the Sitka National Historical Park Visitor Center this morning. Tlingit master carver Tommy Joseph’s newly completed yellow cedar Waas’go pole, pictured in the background, was moved out of the park’s carving shed Thursday to make room for Joseph’s latest project – carving a Tlingit canoe with the aid of an apprentice. Joseph’s Waas’go pole is the third version of the Haida pole in the past century – a reproduction of a reproduction made in the 1930s by George Benson, which is placed inside the visitor center. Rangers are working on approval for a location along the park’s trail system for the new pole. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Officials Call For Wearing Masks

Sentinel Staff Writer

“Mask up – whether you are vaccinated or not,” EOC incident commander Craig Warren said Tuesday night.

Warren’s advice to the public came in a report to the Assembly about 60 new positive tests for COVID recorded in one week. Warren is the fire department chief and incident commander of the city Emergency Operations Center for the pandemic.

Twenty new cases were posted on the city dashboard by the end of the day Tuesday, and as of noon today four new positive cases had been listed. The two-week total is 78.

The city Emergency Operations Center and members of the Unified Command met Tuesday to review the dramatic uptick in cases, which took the city from “low” to “high” risk in less than a week.

Today, City Administrator John Leach announced a new face covering requirement in city buildings, “if social distancing of at least six feet or more between individuals cannot be maintained.”

While noting that most citizens have done their part to stop the spread of the virus, “I must take this action to ensure the safety of our community, help our recovering economy, safely welcome back tourism, and allow our kids to get back to a normal school year,” Leach said in today’s statement.

Warren and Dr. Elliot Bruhl, SEARHC chief medical officer, spoke under “special reports” at the beginning of Tuesday night’s regular Assembly meeting.

“Today is an unfortunately historic day,” Warren said of the 24-hour record of 20 positive tests in Sitka, and the 14-day rolling average of 5.36 cases a day.

Co-workers Julie Windsor, left, and Janet Schwartz wear masks as they stand behind a plexiglass barrier in the city hall utility office this afternoon. After a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Sitka, people are once again asked to wear masks while in city buildings. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

He continued with a statement by the Unified Command:

“Since June 1st, there have been 87 positive cases of COVID-19; 21 of those cases have been ‘breakthrough’ cases. Breakthrough cases defined as someone who has complete vaccination plus two weeks. Last week alone there were 60 new cases; 18 of those were vaccinated.

“This is not the failure of the vaccine. It is working as we expected. It was never said that it would prevent you from getting COVID. It was also never said to offer 100% protection. It decreases severity of illness, reduces hospitalizations and decreases the risk of death. It has done this.

“Our current high alert level is not just people being sick at home; it’s also sick people wandering around our community. In the past year, there were six cumulative hospitalizations that has now increased this week alone to 15. There was one hospitalized individual that was, in fact, vaccinated. Now is the time for concern. And now it’s time to rethink flattening the curve.

“The emergency operations center would like to thank people who were willing to change their behaviors through this entire pandemic to protect themselves, their family and their neighbors. 

“We would also like to thank the businesses that open safely and scaled their opening throughout the pandemic. EOC urges Sitkans to continue to follow mitigation guidance. 

“When personal choice starts to have consequences to the community, the risks are enormous. It affects our children and the school’s ability to reopen the daycares and keeping the parents at work. It affects hospital capacity, businesses and Sitka’s economy. We’ve signed cruise ship agreements, where we’ve made that industry reach vaccination and safety levels that Sitka’s not been able to reach.

“The EOC is calling on the public to make the right choice for not only yourself, but also for your family and the community. Let’s go back to the Golden Rule with the principle of treating others, as one wants to be treated.

“In this high alert level, we recommend that you mask up whether you were vaccinated or not, encourage you to social distance and talk to your doctor about the vaccine, to find out if it is right for you and your situation. Please stay home if you are sick.

“Sitka has a long tradition of neighbors being good to neighbors. Think about how we would assist a boater in distress if we could. Let’s keep that trend. In order to keep businesses open and not let hospital capacity be at risk, we need to flatten the curve because what we’ve been doing by being relaxed, it is not working.

“Until we’re through this high-alert level, we need to get to take precautions.

“The Sitka EOC is strongly recommending masking of all Sitkans again. This recommendation was not made lightly. This disease has changed and we’re not fighting the same disease we were up against last year. Please follow the guidance, talk to your healthcare professional about the vaccine if you are not vaccinated, and let’s look out for each other. That is the message from the EOC.”

Warren said the recommendations came after much discussion and debate at the Emergency Operations Center.

In his remarks at the Assembly meeting, Bruhl said there were intermittent admissions to the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center throughout the pandemic, but there have been four and six COVID patients in the hospital the past week and a half.

“We have not had to medevac anybody out,” Bruhl added. “Fortunately, our staff at this point is very, very well trained and familiar with the issues around this, and they’re doing a great job.”
He said the medical center has “bumped up against our capacity a little bit,” but has also done “surge planning” for situations like the present one.

“What’s really going on here is an issue of people ending up in the hospital who are unvaccinated,” Bruhl said. “And as we look at this growth in here in the last 12 days or so, it’s really been centered in three clusters – or groups of people – who have chosen not to get vaccinated and also chosen to associate closely with one another.”

He did not describe the nature of the “clusters” mentioned. 

While unvaccinated people presently comprise 95 percent of COVID hospital admissions in the U.S., “it’s actually 97 percent in the state of Alaska,” Bruhl said.

“It’s been even higher in some other areas of the country, approaching 98 percent,” he said. “And 99 percent of everyone who’s been dying from this have been people who’ve been unvaccinated. In May, in the United States, there were 18,000 deaths from COVID 19 and of those 99 percent of those folks were unvaccinated.”

He concluded with an appeal to those who have not been vaccinated, to get their shots.

“I feel like it’s your civic duty,” he said.

Laurie Booyse, director of Visit Sitka, also spoke to the Assembly Tuesday night, reporting that Sitka’s increase in risk levels to “high” has caused the Alaska Humanities Forum board of directors to cancel its conference that was planned for Sitka in late July. The conference would have brought some 45 visitors to town using conference space at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and occupying 20 hotel rooms.

Booyse also told the Assembly that Sitka is set to welcome the first cruise ship of the season, Serenade of the Seas. The capacity is 2,476 but Booyse said she didn’t know how many would actually be aboard. She asked the public to be patient with visitors and follow precautions to keep them “and each other” safe.

In Leach’s memo today, he said the decision to implement a mask policy was not made lightly since most of Sitka’s population “has done their part in stopping the spread of this virus.”

The new policy is effective immediately and says “all employees, contractors, and visitors to City and Borough of Sitka facilities must wear

a face mask if social distancing of at least six feet or more between individuals cannot be maintained. This applies to entryways, hallways, stairwells, elevators, and personal offices where a six-foot distance cannot be exercised.”

Leach added that a mask is a tool to help minimize the spread but “is no substitute for proper handwashing, hygiene and practicing social distancing of at least six feet between you and others.”

There was no mention of the Delta variant at the meeting, but it is on a sharp rise in the state, comprising some 40 percent of positive COVID tests in recent samples. State health officials have said the Delta variant is likely driving the increase. Daily rates of COVID across the U.S. have doubled in the last three weeks.



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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 9-17-21)

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 10:47 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 875

Total statewide – 96,002

Total (cumulative) deaths – 454

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 2,207

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

COVID in Sitka

The COVID alert rate for Sitka is “high,” based on 14 new COVID cases in the past 7 days, a rate of 187.73 per 100,000 population. Alert status will be high until the rate per thousand is below 100. Case statistics are as of Thursday.

New cases in Sitka – 5

Cases in last 7 days – 16

Cumulative Sitka cases – 946

Positive cumulative test results in Sitka, as of 9/10/21 – 1,090

Deceased (cumulative) – 3

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

• • •


Sitka Vax Stats 

The State of Alaska DHSS reported Friday the following statistics on vaccinations for Sitka.

Partially vaccinated – 6,132 (83.03%)

Fully vaccinated – 5,991 (81.12%)

Total population (12+) – 7,385

Sitka has vaccinated fully vaccinated 89.85 percent of its senior population (1,478 total), age 65 and older. 

Vaccination data for the City and Borough of Sitka can be found online at:





September 2001

Alaska Pacific Bank has opened an account for donations to be directed to the families of the World Trade Center attack of Sept. 11. The account has been opened with a $2,000 contribution from the bank and an anonymous donor.

September 1971

At the Sitka Historical Society’s meeting Sunday, Mrs. Esther Billman of Sheldon Jackson College presented a “surprise package” of recent donations to the Sheldon Jackson Museum by Mr. Hugh Brady, youngest son of former Territorial Gov. John Brady.