News Release: August 31 case count update

Sitka Unified Command received information from Public Health Officials on one positive test result for COVID-19 in Sitka on Friday, August 28.  

Sitka’s positive test count is now at 40 resident cases, 17 non-resident cases, and 1 hospitalization. The State of Alaska is reporting 5,226 cumulative resident cases statewide. Data is provisional and may change.  Please note that occasionally there is a lag between cases being reported on the DHSS data dashboard and what local communities report as details are confirmed and documentation is received.

The confirmed case is a female resident, age 20-29, who was asymptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 21. Patient is isolating. Public Health Officials have initiated a contact investigation and will notify and isolate additional persons that may have been in contact with this individual as appropriate.

To view more data visit: coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and SEARHC at www.covid19.searhc.org.

News Release: August 26 Unified Command Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND TALKS OPERATIONS AT WEEKLY MEETING

SITKA, August 26, 2020 – This week Unifed Command met to discuss the start of the new school year, cloth face masks, procurement of funds from FEMA and the rollout of a new data dashboard.

Janelle Vanesse, Mt. Edgecumbe Superintendent, reported two students tested positive upon arrival and are isolating. They will receive their 7 day test this Friday, August 28.  All other students that have arrived on campus have tested negative upon arrival.

Dave Miller, Operations Commander, said they distributed approximately 2,000 masks on Saturday, August 22 at the Fire Hall.

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing detailed the weekly confirmed cases throughout the state.

Jay Sweeney,  Finance Section Chief, shared that the Finance Department is currently working on the procurement request from March and April. The May project has been sent to the Department of Homeland Security for review. Sitka did not receive the total amount of cloth face masks in a previous request to the State of Alaska. Incident Command has sent in a 213RR to the State for consideration of fullfilling our entire original request of 8,000 masks.

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC Liason & PIO, reported on the number of asymptomatic tests at Mountainside Clinic over the weekend. SEARHC staff continues to meet and discuss safety measures. SEARHC encourages Sitkans to not delay preventative care. 

John Holst, Sitka School District Superintendent, is feeling good about the start of school on August 27. The District is working on a letter that will be sent out to parents outlining how it will be communicated if there is a positve at the school. Visit the Districts website, https://www.sitkaschools.org/, for more information.

In closing, Incident Commander John Leach read an email from FEMA demonstrating the level of detail required and the types of questions that are asked that can delay reimbursement for long periods of time.

Starting in early September the City and Borough of Sitka will unroll a new dashboard that will provide the community a multitude of local data gathered together in one spot. This will also be a local resource for parents, students, and teachers to get updated information on Sitka School District’s Smart Start operations. The dashboard will be located on the CBS COVID-19 Information Center https://cityofsitka.org/.

The State of Alaska is following a leaning local approach by offering local mitigation guidance. Sitka’s Unified Command will soon put into effect a Local Mitigation Guidance plan provided by the State. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has defined three alert levels of community transmission. These alert levels will compliment our average daily new cases in Sitka over the past 14 days.

Sitka Unified Command urges citizens to remain diligent and practice proper hygiene measures, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others and keeping your social circle small. In addition, stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering when around others, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces on a regular basis.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu – fever, aching, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned you might have contracted the coronavirus contact the COVID hotline at 966.8799 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the SEARHC 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse. 

Free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic patients is available every weekend. Residents can receive a self-swab nasal test between the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the Mountainside Family Clinic alternative test site, no appointment necessary. For more information, contact the SEARHC COVID-19 Hotline at 966.8799. Results are available in approximately seven (7) days.

The Emergency Operations Center encourages residents to prepare for any local emergency by ensuring each family member has a 14- day emergency supply kit, including any necessary medications.

For information on the local pandemic response, visit sitkacovid19.org or covid19.searhc.org.

# # #

News Release: August 28 case count update

Sitka Unified Command received information from Public Health Officials on two positive test results for COVID-19 in Sitka; both on Thursday, August 27.  

Sitka’s positive test count is now at 39 resident cases, 17 non-resident cases, and 1 hospitalization. The State of Alaska is reporting 5,092 cumulative resident cases statewide. Data is provisional and may change.  Please note that occasionally there is a lag between cases being reported on the DHSS data dashboard and what local communities report as details are confirmed and documentation is received.

The first confirmed case is a female resident, age 10-19, who was asymptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 23.

The second confirmed case is a male resident, age 60-69, who was symptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 24.

Both patients are isolating. Public Health Officials have initiated a contact investigation and will notify and isolate additional persons that may have been in contact with these individuals as appropriate.

To view more data visit: coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and SEARHC at www.covid19.searhc.org.

DHSS Alaska COVID-19 Weekly Case Update: August 16-22

This data summary covers COVID-19 in Alaska from Sunday, August 16th through Saturday, August 22nd, 2020.

Background

The Alaska COVID-19 Weekly Case Update will be composed every weekend with data from the previous week and the report will be published by the following Wednesday. Data are continually updated on the AK DHSS Data Hub, which reflects the most current case counts. This summary presents data from the previous week and is a snapshot of the information available on known cases at the time. 

Highlights

  • There are far more active cases in Alaska now than there were at any point in March, April, May or June, but there has been a gradual decrease since a high in late July.
  • In the last week, Alaska saw a 11% increase in cases, with 47% of new cases identified in Anchorage. 
  • Nearly 40% of this week’s new cases were among people aged 20-39 years.
  • The percent of Alaskans who have recovered from COVID-19 compared to total cases in Alaska residents is increasing, but there are still more active than recovered cases reported.
  • Of complete investigations, 61% of this week’s new cases were community-acquired or secondary, meaning that those Alaskans got COVID-19 from others in their community rather than through travel.
  • Many people diagnosed with COVID-19 statewide continue to report attending social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they were aware they had the virus. 
  • Hospital beds used for patients with COVID-19 ranged from 32 to 45 over the past week.
  • Total statewide hospital bed occupancy has remained between 50% to 60% over the past week, although this includes urban hospital beds as well as beds in smaller hospitals that do not often accept transfers from other hospitals.
  • Alaskans should avoid gatherings, wear masks in public, keep six feet of distance from anyone outside of their household and wash hands frequently to slow the spread of COVID-19.  

New cases

This week saw 482 new cases in Alaskans and 15 in nonresidents, for a total of 4,741 and 817 respectively. Several cases previously classified as resident cases have since been reclassified as nonresident cases after further investigation took place. 12 additional Alaskans required hospitalization this week for COVID-19, for a total of 197 since the epidemic began; several hospitalizations that began before this week were also identified. Four additional deaths were reported this week, for a total of 32. By convention, deaths are counted based on the residency of the patient rather than where they contracted the virus.  

Epidemic curve

This analysis projects growth or reduction in cases predicted in the coming weeks based on the growth of cases in recent weeks. The most recent 7 days (grey bars) are not included because there can be a delay in reporting data. This model assumes exponential growth or reduction in cases and can be a useful tool to visualize how quickly cases are increasing or decreasing. This curve does not project what might happen if more people start wearing masks or increase physical distancing; it assumes Alaskans and visitors to Alaska do not change their behavior. The dotted line is the average prediction, and the grey shaded area is estimated error for the predicted rise in cases. For a full description of methods, visit https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/

Currently, cases are predicted to halve about every 90 days based on the current case trend, worse from from last week, when cases were predicted to halve every 20 days. Keeping the case trend prediction downsloping will depend on a continued effort among Alaskans to slow the spread of transmission through physical distancing, masks and limiting contacts. 

Communities affected this week 

New cases were found in Alaskans who are residents of the following communities:

·         Anchorage (226), Chugiak (2), Girdwood (1) and Eagle River (11), for a total of 240 new cases in the Anchorage Municipality. 

·         Fairbanks (63), North Pole (7) and one in a smaller community for a total of 71 new cases in the Fairbanks North Star Borough

·     Wasilla (41), Palmer (11), Willow (1), Houston (1) and Big Lake (3) for a total of 57 new cases in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough

·     Kenai (18), Soldotna (14), Homer (2), Kenai (10) and a smaller community (2) for a total of 46 new cases in the Kenai Peninsula Borough

·     Valdez (1) and 6 in a smaller community or communities in Valdez-Cordova Census Area, for a total of 7

·     Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (9)

·     Juneau (15) and Douglas (2), for a total of 17 in the Juneau City and Borough

·     Ketchikan (3)

·     Kotzebue (13) and 4 in a smaller community or communities in the Northwest Arctic Borough, for a total of 17

·     Sitka (3)

·     Kodiak (3)

·     Utqiagvik (6) and one in a smaller community in the North Slope Borough, for a total of 7

·     Nome (5) and 4 in a smaller community or communities in the Nome Census Area for a total of 9

·     Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula (1)

·     Dillingham (1)

·     Bethel (4) and 5 in a smaller community, for 9 total in the Bethel Census Area 

·     Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area (5)

·     Wrangell (1)

Case rates and alert levels

The 7 day case rate map depicts cases adjusted by population for a given region (cases per 100,000 people). The regions are large because Alaska is a large state with few densely populated centers, so this case rate can only be meaningful across large regions. 

The highest case rate this week was in the Northwest Region, which nearly doubled from 8.3 to 15.6. Next is Anchorage Municipality, which improved from 14.6 to 11.7 in the last week, and Fairbanks North Star Borough, at 10.3 from 7.3. The Interior Region improved to 9.8 from 11.0, while Kenai Peninsula Borough improved from 10.0 to 8.8. Mat-Su increased from 5.8 to 7.7 this week, while Juneau City and Borough improved from 16.5 to 6.7. The southern Southeast region improved from 7.2 to 5.7, while the Y-K Delta improved from 6.0 to 4.9. The Southwest Region and the northern Southeast region had few cases this week and a rate was not calculated. Most states use a 7 day case rate per 100,000 population to estimate trends in community transmission. Roughly, rates of >10 cases daily per 100,000 population correspond to widespread community transmission and >5 to moderate community transmission, but a sharp increase or decrease in these rates can help predict how the next week or weeks will look for the region. 

7-day Case Rate Map (cases per 100,000 people)

Because of Alaska’s unique geography and smaller population, a 14 day case rate can also be useful. The alert level map below, designed to help long term facilities decide when it may be safer to allow visitors in their facilities, uses a 14 day case rate approach. 

In high alert level (red) is the Northwest Borough (11.7 from 7.8 last week), the Interior Region excluding Fairbanks (10.4 from 8.5), Juneau City and Borough (11.6 from 13.0), and the Anchorage Municipality (13.0 from 14.4). 

In intermediate alert level (orange) is Fairbanks North Star Borough (8.3 from 6.0), Kenai Peninsula Borough (9.1 from 7.3). Matanuska-Susitna Borough (6.4 from 5.1), the Y-K Delta Region (5.4 from 3.8), and the Southern Southeast region (6.5 from 4.3). 

In low alert level (yellow) is the Northern Southeast Region (4.5, the same as last week) and the Southwest region (3.5 from 3.7). 

More information on alert levels is available on this page

How Alaskans acquired COVID-19

DHSS monitors how people most likely got the virus. In green in the plot below are Alaska residents who acquired COVID-19 by traveling to other states or countries. In March, a substantial proportion of our cases were related to Alaskans returning from elsewhere, while in April and May, fewer Alaskans traveled. Since June, as travel has started to increase, cases in Alaskans related to travel have begun to occur more regularly. 

In blue below are cases where Alaskans got COVID-19 from a known contact. These are people who did not leave the state, but we could trace their illness back to the person they got it from. The goal is for contact tracing to identify each of these cases where someone got it from someone else they had contact with so they can let all other contacts of both people know to quarantine. As contact tracing expanded in May, more cases from contacts were identified.

In red, however, are cases where Alaskans got COVID-19 and contact tracing was not able to establish a clear source. This demonstrates that there are other cases in our communities that we have not found yet. The biggest increase in cases in Alaska has been in people aged 20-39, with many cases linked to bars and social gatherings.

Grey bars show the cases where the investigation has not yet concluded. Since the workload for contact tracers has more than doubled in the last few weeks, they are working as fast as possible to identify and quarantine contacts. Alaskans can help contact tracers move faster and prevent more cases by keeping their contact list small, keeping a diary of who they are in close contact with (defined as within 6 feet for 10 minutes or more), wearing cloth face coverings when around any non-household members or in public, and responding promptly to being contacted. 

Age and gender distributions

More COVID-19 cases have been found in adults aged 20-39 than any other age group. Gender distribution has been close to equal, with slightly fewer than half of cases in males and slightly over half in females. 

Distribution of cases compared to population distribution

Includes data from all cases reporting one or more races. 

Based on these data, American Indian and Alaska Native as well as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately affected. 

RaceNumber of casesPercent of cases (of those for whom a race is known)Percent of Alaska population
American Indian and Alaska Native66827% 16%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders1887.5% 1%
Black/African American1566.2% 4%
Asian 1144.5% 7%
Multiple1435.7% 8%
White112045% 65%
Other race1265.0%  
Total for whom a race is known2515  
Under investigation1780  
Race unknown293  

Hospital capacity

Hospitals report all inpatient beds in this total, including those for infants and obstetrics. However, the ICU bed count includes only staffed adult and pediatric ICU beds, as NICU (neonatal ICU) beds can only be used for infants and would not be useful for teenage or adult patients with severe COVID-19.

Hospitals remain below capacity, with ventilators and ICU beds available, but use continues to slowly rise. 197 Alaskans have required hospitalization for COVID-19. Bed occupancy due to COVID-19 rose in July, following a rise in cases, and has not yet significantly decreased.

Risk of severe COVID-19 by race and ethnicity

CDC notes that older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness if they get COVID-19. In particular, CDC specifies cancer, chronic renal disease, COPD, immunocompromised state from a solid organ transplant, obesity (BMI 30 or higher), serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and problems with the heart muscle, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes as carrying an increased risk of severe illness. 

Data was immediately available for the prevalence of several of these conditions among Alaskans. Because Alaska’s population is small and the data collected is even smaller, several of these estimates are considered statistically unstable, or not very reliable. However, they are presented here as an example of how different chronic diseases impact different populations of Alaskans, and they may be able to predict increased risk of severe COVID-19 among some populations.

Race or ethnicityCardiovascular diseaseCOPDDiabetes Obesity Current smoker
Multiple races, non-Latino3.3%*2.4%*7.2%28.6%12.9%
Hispanic or Latino5.2%*5%*10%23.1%25.5%
White4.2%5%8.3%30.6%15.9%
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific IslanderNo data availableNo data available6.6%*55.4%17.9%
Black or African American8%*6.1%*17.2%44.3%20%
AsianNo data available2.9%*8.6%18.7%8.5%
Alaska Native4.6%7.4%7.8%36.3%36.8%

*Statistically unstable: there is not enough data for this category to consider this a reliable estimate

Hospitalizations and deaths by race and ethnicity

Hospitalization percentages are influenced both by the number of people of that race hospitalized and the number of people of that race who have been found to have COVID-19. This means that a population that either has a high degree of severity of COVID-19 and/or a low rate of testing and many undiscovered cases may have a high percent hospitalized shown in state data. Conversely, a population that has many hospitalizations but has a disproportionately high testing rate may have a lower percent hospitalized relative to other groups, since they have fewer undetected cases.

Because Alaska has had 32 deaths related to COVID-19, it is very difficult to draw robust conclusions from these small numbers. Hospitalizations may be a better indicator of actual severity among different populations, since those draw from larger numbers. Other states have had far larger numbers of hospitalizations and deaths and can draw conclusions about trends with more confidence. 

Disparities in severity among Alaskan populations have begun to trend towards mirroring those in other states. However, state and federal data reflects significant racial disparities in the impact of COVID-19 on minority communities, and Alaskan populations such as Alaskan Native People and Pacific Islanders are known to experience conditions that place them at higher risk for severe COVID-19 at increased rates compared to other groups. Racial disparities in these numbers may be best interpreted as proxies for differences in contributing factors such as rates of medical comorbidities, exposure risks, and ready access to medical care. Care should be taken not to interpret racial disparities as inherent biological differences among races.

Race Number of casesPercent of cases who were/are hospitalizedPercent of cases who have died
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander18817.6% 2.1% 
Asian11410.5% 1.8% 
American Indian and Alaska Native6686.8% 1.5% 
Black/African American1563.8% 0%
Multiple races1431.4%0%
White11205.6%1.3%
Other1264.8% 0%
Unknown or not yet identified1,7800.9% 0%
All cases for which a race is known2,5157.3%1.3%
All cases37064.1% 0.7%

Reporting of deaths due to COVID-19

Although several of these deaths occurred in Alaskans who acquired the disease in another state and never traveled to Alaska during their illness, they are counted as deaths in our reporting by national convention. In accordance with national standards, case counts for Alaska reflect known cases in all Alaska residents, regardless of where they acquired the infection or where it was discovered. This provides consistency and avoids cases and deaths being double-counted between states. Cases found in Alaska that are not among Alaska residents are reported under nonresident cases. 

32 Alaskans are reported as having died from COVID-19. 

Recovered cases

Reporting of recovered cases varies because reporting typically lags a few days. This week, 322 more Alaskans were reported to have recovered (either they have been confirmed by public health as recovered or they have completed 10 days of isolation) from COVID-19, for a total of 1,559, or 32% of total cases. This is an increase of 3% from last week, meaning that the general trend is towards more Alaskans recovering from COVID-19 than are newly testing positive. Encouragingly, between the close of data reporting for this summary and its publication, many more recovered cases were reported. As of August 26, recovered cases in Alaskans stands at 1,899, or 39% of total cases in Alaska residents. 

Nonresident cases

Of the 15 nonresident cases identified this week, 2 were in the Kodiak Island Borough, 3 were in Juneau City and Borough, 3 were in the Anchorage Municipality, 1 was in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 1 was in the Petersburg Borough, 2 were in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, and one was in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area. Two nonresident cases did not yet have their location identified. 

2 nonresident cases were associated with the seafood industry, 1 with tourism or visiting purposes, 4 with mining, and 2 with other industries. 

Test positivity rate

The test positivity rate is the percentage of tests performed in a given area that come back positive. While the positivity rate is not a standalone measure of the amount of viral transmission in a region, it helps visualize whether the testing being conducted is sufficient to meet the need to detect viral transmission in that region. Lower test positivity rates are better, since they reflect more tests being performed to find each positive case. Positivity rates over 5% are concerning because they may indicate that testing is insufficient or that there is significant ongoing viral transmission.

In the map below, the Dillingham Census Area has the highest weekly positivity rate, at 6.3. The Valdez-Cordova Census Area has the second highest weekly positivity rate, 3.5%, while the Anchorage Municipality and the Kenai Peninsula Borough follow at 2.3% and 2.2% respectively. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has a rate of 1.7%, Fairbanks North Star Borough of 1.5% and Denali Borough of 1.4%. All other regions had rates less than 1%. The overall state positivity rate this week was 2.2%. 

Alaska’s overall positivity rate, of 327,440 tests total, has remained between 2% and 3% in recent months and has not exceeded 4% during the pandemic so far. 

Contact tracing

Ongoing contact tracing has uncovered many cases in Alaskans who have had possible exposures related to group activities. These include churches, residential living facilities, workplaces, bars and social gatherings. Alaskans should be aware that any gathering, particularly indoors, poses some risk of exposure and should take steps to minimize their risk and the risk they pose to others by keeping their social circles small, wearing face coverings, avoiding large gatherings, and gathering only if it is possible to remain 6 feet apart, ideally outdoors. Contact tracing has become even more resource intensive in recent weeks with both an increase in new cases and a marked increase in the number of contacts each person has- meaning that people are expanding their social circles even as case rates increase.

Tourism, visitors and airport testing

Airports report data on a Saturday through Friday cycle, meaning that the airport screening numbers in this section reflect data collected on Saturday, August 15th through Friday, August 21st. 

This week saw 22,052 travelers screened at airports entering Alaska, and 3,724 (17%) were tested on entry. 1,216 Alaskans selected a 14 day quarantine (5% of total travelers). 14,051 provided proof of another test performed within 72 hours of landing in Alaska (64%). The remaining 3,155 (14%) provided proof of having recovered from COVID-19, were essential workers following a community and workplace protection plan or were Alaskans who had been gone for fewer than 24 hours. 25 positive results from the tests performed at the airport were reported this week for a positivity rate of 0.7%. 

Since testing began eleven weeks ago, 210,450 travelers have been screened at Alaska airports. 98,445 (47%) tested prior to travel, 62,839 (30%) have tested in Alaska airports, and 24,331 (12%) selected a 14 day quarantine. There have been 362 positive tests reported so far through airport testing, for an overall estimated test positivity rate of 0.6%.

Of the 15 cases in nonresidents this week, one was linked with a visitor, in Petersburg Borough. 

Seafood industry

Of 15 nonresident cases total identified this week, 2 are in workers in the seafood industry, both in the Kodiak Island Borough. All nonresidents with COVID-19 are quarantined and contact tracing is ongoing for these cases. 

Data timeliness and accuracy

Weekly summaries are published early the following week because that gives the state public health workforce time to collect data, verify accuracy, make sure cases have not been counted in multiple places and verify patient identities. This summary is designed to review a week’s data from the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub dashboard, which displays same-day or next-day data. The dashboard data occasionally changes as new information is received or as cases are reclassified once verification takes place, since this process takes time. Weekly summaries reflect our most current and complete knowledge about cases in the previous week. 

Further information

Please see the State of Alaska COVID-19 information page for more information about the virus and how individuals and businesses can protect themselves and others from transmission. 

For the most up-to-date case information, see the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub dashboard. Some data may change as more information comes to light through contact tracing and other public health work. 

For questions regarding DHSS COVID response, including mandates and alerts, email covidquestions@alaska.gov. Since DHSS is experiencing a high volume of inquiries, the Frequently Asked Questions webpage can often be the quickest route to an answer regarding testing, travel, health mandates and other COVID-19 information. 

For DHSS media inquiries, please contact clinton.bennett@alaska.gov.

DHSS Insights Blog: What are learning pods or cohorts, and are they safe?

What are learning pods or cohorts, and are they safe?

AUGUST 22, 2020 – As Alaskans prepare to send children back to school, whether by homeschooling, remote learning or in a classroom with other students, you’ve probably heard the terms “pod” or “cohort” suggested as methods to help keep kids safe from infection with COVID-19 while learning.

What is a cohort or a pod?

The answer is deceptively simple: Basically, a cohort or pod is another name for a small social bubble, advised by health experts since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a mechanism to keep interactions with others low. The idea is that when you do have contact with others, it’s with a small and consistent group of people, all of whom are also being careful to limit interactions with others. 

In this illustration, one student with COVID-19 results in exposure of the entire classroom in the non-cohorted class. In the lower cohorted class, the cohort that included the student with COVID-19 must be quarantined but the rest of the class may continue in-person learning. Cleaning and wiping surfaces must be maintained between multiple student uses, even in the same cohort. Staff who interact with multiple stable cohorts are strongly encouraged by the CDC to wash/sanitize their hands between different cohorts and wear face coverings.

Ideally, all contacts outside your immediate household bubble would still include keeping 6 feet from others and wearing a mask when closer, but because this is difficult to maintain all of the time, especially with children, a cohort or pod can allow people to learn and socialize together while minimizing risks. 

Alaska Smart Start 2020 Plan

According to the Alaska Smart Start 2020 plan, created in partnership by the Department of Education and Early Development and Department of Health and Social Services, forming these small, stable groups – cohorts – will be a key strategy for safe learning as children return to classrooms. As children remain in stable groups throughout each day, exposure to anyone who might be infected with COVID-19 will be minimized and if it does occur, contact tracing to identify anyone else who was potentially exposed will be much easier.

Alaska Smart Start 2020 Plan

Here’s what the plan advises for low and medium risk children: “Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children). Cohorting children into groups of 6 or fewer is critical in containing transmission, preventing larger school outbreaks and closures, and is especially important at ages that find physical distancing difficult, and should be considered for students in elementary school and younger.”

The plan adds that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommend cohorting any time students are unable to keep six feet of distance from one another. Cohorts are advised not to mix with other groups. Teachers, rather than students, would be the ones to rotate between groups if needed, while maintaining 6 feet of distance from the cohort at all times.

The CDC discusses several safe schooling strategies in its FAQ for School Administrators on Reopening Schools

Cohorts for children learning from home

But what if you’ve decided to home school your child, use remote learning, or your school is starting online? Some families are choosing to form their own cohorts for children who are learning from home, with parents sharing oversight or teaching roles, or in some cases, pooling resources to pay someone to help.

If families do this, the same guidelines apply. If you decide to share learning time with another family or families, make sure they also consistently follow safe health practices and keep the cohort of children small and stable. Wear masks where possible and place children six feet apart. Encourage frequent hand washing – especially immediately upon entering the class area and before leaving, and before and after meals or snacks.

When the weather is good, consider having classes outside, but always strive to maintain six feet of distance between students and encourage mask use. If children are inside, select a location that is well-ventilated with windows open, weather permitting.

Keep your bubble small  

If your family does choose to form a cohort with others, keep in mind that every additional social contact of any person in a household bubble increases the risk of exposing the entire household to the virus. Families may want to decrease their social interactions outside their social bubble to compensate for their children needing to be part of cohorts. For example, if during the summer your family had been socializing in closer contact with another family or families, it may be time to minimize social contacts outside of school cohorts. In general, smaller gatherings and fewer contacts are safer.

Track who is in your family’s bubble

One helpful tool to manage this is to write down the names of everyone in your family’s social or learning circles for a given week. Do you have a tutor and two other children cohorted with your children? That’s three. Did your teenager meet up with two friends? That’s five. Did you have a family of four over for a barbecue? That’s nine. You get the idea. With larger families, keeping contacts limited is difficult but important. Consider if anyone within your family is at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and be cautious as you make choices for your family. 

Who is in your bubble?

Alaskans can do hard things

The guidance during these challenging times applies whether you’re teaching children at home, sending them to school or planning a summer barbecue. Keep your family’s social circle small, and when you do interact with others, wear masks, wash hands and clean surfaces frequently, and maintain six feet of social distancing.

Used together, these methods can work well to help protect against infection with COVID-19. And by working together – as Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink often says – Alaskans can do hard things!


News Release: August 24 Case Count Update for Sitka

Sitka Unified Command received information from Public Health Officials on two positive test results for COVID-19 in Sitka; both on Friday, August 21.

Sitka’s positive test count is now at 37 resident cases, 17 non-resident cases, and 1 hospitalization. The State of Alaska is reporting 4,810 cumulative resident cases statewide. Data is provisional and may change.  Please note that occasionally there is a lag between cases being reported on the DHSS data dashboard and what local communities report as details are confirmed and documentation is received.

The first confirmed case is a female nonresident, age 10-19, who was asymptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 20.

The second confirmed case is a male nonresident, age 10-19, who was asymptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 20. Both patients are isolating. Public Health Officials have initiated a contact investigation and will notify and isolate additional persons that may have been in contact with these individuals as appropriate.

To view more data visit: coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and SEARHC at www.covid19.searhc.org.

News Release: August 21 Case Count Updates for Sitka

Sitka Unified Command received information from Public Health Officials on one positive test results for COVID-19 in Sitka on Thursday, August 20.

Sitka’s positive test count is now at 37 resident cases, 15 non-resident cases, and 1 hospitalization. The State of Alaska is reporting 4,520 cumulative cases statewide. Data is provisional and may change.  Please note that occasionally there is a lag between cases being reported on the DHSS data dashboard and what local communities report as details are confirmed and documentation is received.

The confirmed case is a female resident, age 60-69, who was symptomatic and received COVID-19 testing on August 17.

The patient is isolating. Public Health Officials have initiated a contact investigation and will notify and isolate additional persons that may have been in contact with this individual as appropriate.

To view more data visit: coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and SEARHC at www.covid19.searhc.org.

News Release: August 19 Unified Command Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND INTRODUCES NEW COMMUNITY ALERT LEVELS AND DASHBOARD AT WEEKLY MEETING

SITKA, August 19, 2020 – Highlights of the August weekly Unifed Command meeting were softball tournament requests and preparing to rollout new Alert Levels and a data dashboard that coincides with the State of Alaska’s mitigation guidelines.

Incident Commander John Leach reported since the last briefing, August 14th he received notification from the State of Alaska that free marketing material was available. A 213 RR was submitted Monday, August 17th for these items. On August 16th, a softball group from Juneau appealed a denial to hold a softball tournament in Sitka. This request was denied by the Municipal Administrator based on the 45 day advance notification requirement and that it is a risk too close to our schools opening and could have potential impacts from visitors into our community.

Tuesday, August 18th, Leach sat in on a call with the State and Abner Hogue from Ketchikan to discuss data dashboards as a part of the State of Alaska’s Leaning Local initiative. Sitka is in the process of working on a change in our case count update.  The goal is to use the numbers and mitigation levels that we have now, move them to a centralized website, and supplement with press releases. We want one source of information for the community that will show community risk level, recommended mitigation levels and display a multitude of local data points. The EOC will be looking for marques around town that can be used to display our risk level.

Dr. Bruhl, Incident Commander SEARHC, said staff continues to work with Mt. Edgecumbe High School on their testing process for students and their quarantine and isolation plans of students who may arrive and test positive. MEHS will not have their usual amount of circulation within the community.  

SEARHC testing supplies are strong with increasing amount of test kits and increased ability for inhouse testing will occur with the arrival of new testing machines.

John Holst, Sitka School District Superintendent, stated that 170 staff members have completed testing on August 15.  Mandatory self-administered testing will take place every two weeks. The district is planning on opening for the first day of school on August 27 & 28. Visit the Districts website, https://www.sitkaschools.org/, for more information.

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing detailed the weekly confirmed cases throughout the state.

The State of Alaska is following a leaning local approach by offering local mitigation guidance. Sitka’s Unified Command will soon put into effect a Local Mitigation Guidance plan provided by the State. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has defined three alert levels of community transmission. These alert levels will compliment our average daily new cases in Sitka over the past 14 days.

Sitka Unified Command urges citizens to remain diligent and practice proper hygiene measures, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others and keeping your social circle small. In addition, stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering when around others, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces on a regular basis.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu – fever, aching, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned you might have contracted the coronavirus contact the COVID hotline at 966.8799 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the SEARHC 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse. 

Free COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic patients is available every weekend. Residents can receive a self-swab nasal test between the hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at the Mountainside Family Clinic alternative test site, no appointment necessary. For more information, contact the SEARHC COVID-19 Hotline at 966.8799. Results are available in approximately seven (7) days.

The Emergency Operations Center encourages residents to prepare for any local emergency by ensuring each family member has a 14- day emergency supply kit, including any necessary medications.

For information on the local pandemic response, visit sitkacovid19.org or covid19.searhc.org.

# # #