Our Local Public Health Officials Need Your Help

If you test positive for COVID-19:
•Isolate immediately. Stay home except to get medical care and minimize contact with everyone in your household.
•Notify close contacts. Quickly notify anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes (cumulative) within six feet of you over a 24-hour period so they quarantine immediately.
•Seek care if needed. Stay in touch with your doctor and seek care if you have any emergency warning signs or you think it’s an emergency.
•Answer the call. If you receive a phone call from a contract tracer, please answer the call and return their message. Many different entities are assisting with contact tracing so there is no Caller ID.

If you are a close contact:
•Quarantine immediately and for the full 14 days. Get test around day 7 of your quarantine, even if you don’t have symptoms. If the test is negative, STAY in quarantine. If the test is positive, isolate for 10 days and notify your close contacts

We need everyone’s help to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in Sitka.

Company home for the holidays?

Young family coming home for the holidays? Here are a few rules for your travelers to keep in mind:
• Get tested: Know you’re negative. Get a COVID-19 test 72 hours before you leave or at the airport in Alaska when you arrive. If you feel sick at any time, get tested and isolate yourself until you get negative results. A second test is strongly encouraged seven days after arrival.
• Practice STRICT social distancing for at least the first 5 days after arrival.
• It’s 2020. Take it outdoors. Alaskans know how to take it outdoors! 2020 is the year to use those skills. Stay outdoors, keep groups small, maintain at least six feet of distance between people from different households and wear masks.
• Don’t share utensils, drinks, food, joints or vaping devices.

DHSS Press Release: Case surges create data backlog; public health officials are asking Alaskans to help

Nov. 23, 2020 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) cautions that the surge in COVID-19 cases has strained the public health response, creating a backlog in case and contact investigations. DHSS is urging anyone who receives a positive test result to notify their own close contacts as soon as possible so individuals can quarantine without delay.

Across the nation, states are facing challenges in contact tracing and in efforts to reduce spread of the disease. Discussions are underway to consider the most effective strategies for tracking and mitigating the pandemic. Contact tracing remains a top priority for DHSS, but because of high case volume, public health officials are asking for the community’s help.

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to fight this pandemic,” said DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum. “This includes contact tracing, providing affordable and accessible testing, securing and shipping supplies to communities, supporting our health care partners and increasing mental health support. However, we’re at a point in this pandemic when we truly need everyone’s help. We’re urging Alaskans to reduce risks and take action to protect themselves, their loved ones and our communities.”

Individuals who test positive can find information to help them effectively isolate on the DHSS COVID-19 webpage. Alaskans who need food, housing or other non-medical assistance to effectively isolate or quarantine can contact Alaska 2-1-1 (dial 211 or 800-478-2221), their local Public Health Center or emergency operations center. They will be connected to agencies and resources in their community that can help.

“We acknowledge that what we’re asking may be very difficult,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “Remember anyone can get COVID. There should be no stigma associated with this highly infectious disease. If you are identified as a close contact, please quarantine immediately and remain in quarantine for a full 14 days. And if you need help, please ask for support.”

“With the latest surge in cases, the state’s contact tracers have been forced to triage cases to ensure they are reaching the people most at risk for severe symptoms and those most likely to spread the disease,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. “Even with additional staffing, multiple systems are unable to keep up with reporting, data entry and outreach to all infected individuals. For newly reported cases, contact tracers try to make first contact the day the cases are reported, as well as provide monitoring calls to some of the highest risk individuals. However, due to the delays in the process and some calls that can’t be initiated that first day, we recommend Alaskans call their own close contacts.”

Public health contact tracers are prioritizing who needs to be called first based on factors recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection including how long ago the person was tested, if the person lives or works in a location where there is a high risk of transmission (for example, a nursing home), or if the person is at higher risk for severe illness based on age or other factors.

It is likely that some individuals will not be contacted. To help fill this gap, health care providers and testing facilities are being asked to educate patients about actions they should take while waiting for their test result and if they test positive.

What Alaskans can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19

  • Get tested if you have any symptoms, even mild symptoms. Have a low threshold for testing.
  • While you’re waiting for a test result, STAY HOME and monitor your health for fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or sense of smell or other symptoms. As much as possible, stay away from others in your household. Many people may never experience symptoms but can still spread the infection to others who may become much sicker. Create a list of your recent close contacts so you can notify them immediately if you test positive.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19,
    • Isolate immediately. Stay home except to get medical care and minimize contact with everyone in your household. Refer to the “What to do after you test” handout for specific directions on what to do.
    • Notify close contacts. Quickly notify anyone who has spent more than 15 minutes (cumulative) within six feet of you over a 24-hour period so they quarantine immediately. Provide them with this handout on what to do during quarantine.
    • Seek care if needed. Stay in touch with your doctor and seek care if you have any emergency warning signs or you think it’s an emergency.
    • Answer the call: If you receive a phone call from a contact tracer, please answer the call and return their message. Many different entities are assisting with contact tracing so there is no caller ID. They will always tell you who they are, who they work for, and that they are calling about COVID-19. They never ask for money, your bank, credit card, social security number or immigration status. If you speak a language other than English, interpreters and interviewers who speak your language are available.
  • If you are a close contact, quarantine immediately and for the full 14 days. Get tested around day 7 of your quarantine, even if you don’t have symptoms. If the test is negative, STAY in quarantine. If the test is positive, isolate for 10 days and notify your close contacts.
  • Practice prevention and reduce risks. Follow the 3 W’s (wear a mask, wash hands frequently and watch your space by maintaining at least 6 feet from non-household members) and avoid the 3 C’s (closed spaces, crowded places and close contact situations).
  • If you need mental health support,
    • Careline Alaska: 877-266-4357, free, confidential help for anyone who needs to talk
    • National Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990. Immediate crisis counseling for people affected by COVID-19
    • Alaska Responders Relief Line: 844-985-8275. Support for medical workers on the front lines of COVID-19 and their families.

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Caring for Someone Sick at Home

There are important things to remember when caring for someone who has or might have COVID-19:

• Pick one person to care for the person who is sick, if possible. It should not be someone at higher risk for severe illness.
• If possible, have the person who is sick stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.
• If you must share space, make sure the room has good airflow – open windows if possible.

For more tips from CDC on caring for someone sick at home visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html

Travelers! Remember Your Second Test.

Attention travelers! Let’s keep a lid on COVID‐19! Per Resolution 2020‐30, approved by the City and Borough of Sitka Assembly on November 10, all persons returning to Sitka after traveling (both in state and out of state) are strongly encouraged to take a second test (7 days after initial travel test) and continue strict social distancing until the result of the second test is received.

Testing for this purpose is available at the Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport daily from 5:30pm to 6:30pm. A testing voucher is in your Alaska Travel Portal account at https://www.alaska.covidsecureapp.com/

Give Thanks and Stay Safe

This is the year to find new and different ways to celebrate the holidays. This fall and winter, the lowest-risk celebrations involve staying close to home and getting together in-person with only immediate family or your small household bubble. Read this holiday blog from DHSS for ways to celebrate creatively and still include loved ones who are far away this year. http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/PlayEveryDay/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=480&fbclid=IwAR0gNj39CrPHN_EWqkyLdxbyZoZ0dyRkAc97LyI5l_fp8j6VZRjM20z1OXk

Health Order 8 and Sitka Travel

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, Governor Dunleavy recently issued new testing requirements and guidance for traveling within Alaska, specifically traveling from communities on the ferry/road system to communities off the ferry/road system. These rules take effect Saturday, November 21. Here’s how they apply when traveling in and out of Sitka:

* Sitka residents planning to travel to a community off the ferry or road system are required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to travel and should not travel until a negative test is received. If travel cannot be delayed until the test result is available, the traveler must follow strict social distancing until they receive a negative result. Testing for this purpose can be done daily at the Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport 5:30pm to 6:30pm.

* People traveling from a community off the ferry or road system to Sitka and staying in Sitka more than 72 hours are required to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to traveling back home and should not travel until a negative test is received. If travel cannot be delayed until the test result is available, the traveler must follow strict social distancing until they receive a negative result. Testing for this purpose can be done daily at the Sitka Rocky Rocky Gutierrez Airport 5:30pm to 6:30pm.

* People traveling from a community off the ferry or road system to Sitka and staying in Sitka less than 72 hours can travel back home without testing, but have to either test for COVID-19 within 5 days of being home and follow strict social distancing until negative results are received, or follow strict social distancing for 14 days if no test is taken.

Anyone who is currently infected with COVID-19 must not travel to a community off the road/ferry system until they are cleared from isolation by a medical professional. Asymptomatic people who have recovered from a documented COVID-19 infection within the past 90 days are exempt from testing requirements.

For more information on these rules, refer to the State of Alaska’s COVID-19 Health Order 8 at https://covid19.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Outbreak-Health-Order-No-8-Intrastate-Travel.pdf

November 18: Unified Command Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES ROLLING OUT THE COVID CONSCIOUS BUSINESS PROGRAM AND VACCINATIONS

SITKA, November 18, 2020

Incident Commander, John Leach participated in a teleconference with northern communities in Southeast Alaska to discuss the 2021 cruise ship season, what the season may look like and impacts on communities – e.g. hospital capacity, medevacs.  Leach noted later in the meeting Amy Ainslie would speak to the COVID Conscious Business program planned for rollout soon. The program, like one launched in Valdez, recognizes businesses that meet certain COVID conscious health and safety criteria. In closing, Leach stated the weekly wastewater sample had been sent in for COVID-19 analysis, results were pending and would be shared on the COVID-19 Dashboard. To stay informed on case counts and mitigation recommendations go to https://cityofsitka.org/.

Sitka School District Superintendent, John Holst shared that Baranof Elementary School had a successful reopen on November 16. If the District starts to see a downward trend in cases, they will consider possibly reopening other schools.

Thor Christianson, Logistics Operations said body bags ordered in the Spring had just arrived.

Denise Ewing, Public Health Nurse, reviewed case counts on the COVID-19 Dashboard. She announced the State, along with SEARHC and the City, will be a part of vaccination planning for our community. The program will roll out over three phases. She urges citizens to visit the CBS COVID-19 Dashboard for the most up to date Sitka information.  It is updated by 5:00 pm each day.

SEARHC Liaison, Maegan Bosak shared as of November 18; 34,883 tests in Sitka have been processed. Currently there are no COVID patients at Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center. There is 1 COVID patient in isolation in their short-term housing.

Craig Warren, Operations Chief reported that asymptomatic testing for travel to communities off the road system is available at the airport from 5:30 – 6:30 pm every day.

Janelle Vanasse, Mt. Edgecumbe High School Superintendent said they are looking at options in how to support their students as they travel home for Christmas.

Trish White, pharmacist shared points of distribution plans for the phase 1 rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program for frontline health care workers and emergency response personnel.

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 daily 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. 

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 cityofsitka.org or covid19.searhc.org.

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