Happy New Year!

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. As this year ends, we are grateful for our unique island community and lifestyle.

Once again, Sitkans have demonstrated their resiliency, adapting quickly and coming together to keep our community healthy and strong.

Sitka’s future is bright! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2021!

December 30 News Release: Unified Command’s Weekly Meeting


SITKA, December 30, 2020

Incident Commander, John Leach spoke to the storm damage that occurred in early December around Sitka and noted that the Governor included Sitka in the State’s disaster declaration. Sitka will have access to disaster relief assistance. Jay Sweeny, Finance Section Chief will be the point of contact for this disaster.

Sitka’s case count is on the decline and last week’s Wastewater Analysis Report indicates the amount of viral gene copies detected in our wastewater is decreasing. Leach thanked the community for practicing mitigation measures and helping keep Sitka on the downward trend of cases by continuing to do so through New Year’s celebrations.

Public Information Officers, Jessica Ieremia and Sara Peterson are keeping citizens informed with updates on the CBS COVID-19 and Facebook pages on local vaccine allocations.

Trish White, Harry Race/White’s Pharmacist announced they are working with the State on Phase I Tier 3 distribution of the Moderna vaccine.  Harry Race & White’s pharmacy are taking enrollment through the State’s online appointment system. For enrollment visit the State DHSS website http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx.

Denise Ewing, Public Health Nurse reviewed case reports and noted the downward trend in positive cases in Sitka and throughout the State of Alaska. Ewing received information that the amount of Moderna and Pfizer vaccine supplied for the State of Alaska will be more than previously thought. The State’s Phase 2 is tentatively scheduled to begin in early February. In phase 2, Public Health will be responsible to vaccinate the homeless shelter, SAFV, homebound, seafood processing plants, incarcerated, Sitka Counseling, and the rural communities of Port Armstrong, Port Alexander, Port Baker, & Port Protection. 

Operations Sections Chief, Craig Warren is asking for patience from the community with the vaccination and allocation process.  White’s, SEARHC, and DHSS are coordinating the vaccine distribution.

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC Liaison reported that a total of 42,026 COVID-19 tests have been performed. As of December 30, in Sitka, SEARHC has vaccinated 854 people. A huge effort is in place to get out as many vaccinations as fast as possible. Community COVID-19 vaccine clinics are taking place for SEARHC with sequencing into 7 groups as follows: Group 1: long-term care and essential health workers, Group 2: elders 80+, Group 3: elders and front line essential workers as defined by the CDC, Group 4: older individuals, medically vulnerable and other essential workers 65-79, Group 5: ages 55-64, Group 6: ages 50 + , Group 7: general population. Groups will be vaccinated in this sequencing order. It is recommended for individuals interested in receiving the vaccine to register online at https://covid19.searhc.org/ and a SEARHC representative will call you for an appointment based on the sequencing group an individual is in.

John Holst, Superintendent for Sitka School District shared that next Monday and Tuesday, January 4-5   will be in-service days and virtual school will start January 6. The District is hoping to announce next week that schools will open full-time for instruction on January 11. The District is eager to get back to some sense of normality. Many educators, who were in town, were able to receive their vaccination in a clinic held by SEARHC on Wednesday, December 30. 

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School thanked SEARHC for vaccinating staff. Students return to campus on January 8 and school will start January 11. Students will be in quarantine on campus for initial phase and won’t come out until a second test, approximately 7 days later. Most staff will have received their second vaccine by the time students are back in class. Students are enjoying their vacations, and no one brought COVID-19 back to their home communities.

Unified Command recommends citizens to enroll for a vaccination online with White’s Pharmacy at http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx and with SEARHC at https://covid19.searhc.org/.

We urge 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. 

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.

# # #

Maintain COVID Protection Measures

Great teamwork, Sitka! Our COVID-19 case rate continues to decline. Thank you for pulling together to put a lid on COVID in our community. Keep up the great work!

–> Keep your social circles SMALL
–> Wear a mask when you’re in public
–> Stay 6 feet from others except those in your household
–> Wash your hands often
–> Clean and sanitize surfaces regularly
–> Stay home if you are sick
–> Get tested immediately if you have symptoms
–> Notify your contacts immediately if you test positive
–> When it’s your turn vaccinate

To stay informed about COVID-19 visit https://cityofsitka.org/, https://covid19.searhc.org/, and https://covid19.alaska.gov/.

To sign up for a vaccination in Sitka, visit the following:
–> http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/epi/id/pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx
–> https://covid19.searhc.org/

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Case Update: December 20–26, 2020

Brief status report

  • The daily growth rate of viral transmission in Alaska reversed from 0.26% to -3.5% over the past two weeks, indicating that viral transmission appears to be slowing.
  • Every Alaskan who chooses to wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, and avoid indoor gatherings contributes to the response effort.
  • The statewide effort to provide every Alaskan with the option of receiving a vaccine as soon as supply allows continues. A second vaccine for COVID-19 received FDA emergency use authorization and distribution has begun.
  • A new variant of the virus causing COVID-19 has been reported in the UK. CDC is monitoring the new variant, which appears to spread faster but does not appear to cause more severe disease. As of 12/29/2020, one case has been confirmed in the United States, in Colorado.
  • CDC guidelines recommend regular testing for critical infrastructure workers and other groups at higher risk for COVID-19, even if they are asymptomatic. While testing should continue to be prioritized for people with symptoms and those with known exposures to COVID-19, expanding screening testing to many groups, including restaurant and grocery store workers, school staff, people who recently attended large gatherings, first responders and healthcare workers is recommended. While these recommendations are not requirements for testing, DHSS is available to consult on the logistics of expanding testing.
  • Alaskans should get tested immediately at the first sign of any symptoms. Tests work best when obtained promptly after symptoms start. Testing early can help Alaskans know they are positive quickly and to take precautions to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
  • Most Alaskans get COVID-19 from a friend, family member, or coworker. Many Alaskans who are diagnosed with COVID-19 report that they went to social gatherings, community events, church services and other social venues while they were contagious but before they knew they had the virus. Alaskans should avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members, avoid crowds, wear masks when around non-household members, and stay 6 feet from anyone not in their household.
  • As cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to increase across the United States, the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is to celebrate at home with your household members. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.
  • Specific requirements for testing and strict social distancing apply to anyone returning to Alaska or traveling between the road/ferry system and smaller communities within Alaska. 
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Case trends and predictions

  • 1,865 new cases were reported in Alaskans last week. This is 29% fewer than the week before but still reflects continued high-level community transmission throughout much of Alaska.
  • Case rates decreased across all regions of Alaska. However, all regions of Alaska other than the Southern Southeast Region continue to have high community transmission and are at a high alert level.
  • The estimated daily growth rate as of December 28, 2020 is -3.5% and new cases are expected to halve every 20 days based on current modeling.  
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Vaccines status update

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update
  • The State of Alaska is working with federal, local, Tribal, and military partners to ensure that the distribution of vaccine goes as quickly and smoothly as possible.
  • A limited amount of vaccine is currently available with more expected to be delivered in the coming weeks and months. As of December 28, more than 12,000 COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Alaska. A tracker is available online as is a vaccine dashboard for up-to-date data.
  • There are no plans to mandate a vaccine at the state level.
  • The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is responsible for providing national recommendations for vaccine administration and allocation.

New cases, hospitalizations and deaths

  • During the week of December 20–26, 1,865 new cases in Alaskans were reported, a 29% decrease from last week, for a total of 44,406 cumulative cases in Alaskans.
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 974 with 22 reported as occurring this week. Hospitalization reports often lag and only 917 hospitalizations were reported at this time last week, so there are 57 hospitalizations newly reported this week including ones that began during previous weeks.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 16 (199 total). All deaths occurred prior to this past week. It is common to take more than a week for a death to be reported, and more deaths that occurred during Dec 20–26 may be reported in future.
  • There were 45 new nonresident cases identified this week, for a total of 1,503 cases.

Cases by Week Reported and Age Group

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health Region
Case rates
Nov 8– Nov 21
Case rates
Nov 15– Nov 28
Case rates
Nov 22– Dec 5
Case rates
Nov 29– Dec 12*
Case rates
Dec 5– Dec 19
Case rates
Dec 13– Dec 26
Anchorage Municipality108.3105.389.287.773.346.4
Fairbanks North Star Borough49.442.941.065.561.833.8
Interior Region except Fairbanks62.261.548.746.935.023.2
Juneau City and Borough31.022.623.523.717.014.7
Kenai Peninsula Borough94.2100.6105.775.560.740.0
Matanuska-Susitna Region41.768.3154.4113.962.048.2
Northern Southeast Region24.123.827.
Northwest Region43.750.565.668.258.936.5
Southern Southeast Region15.87.514.714.09.05.0
Southwest Region32.140.572.9117.289.050.9
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region146.1188.4172.9164.8158.073.3

*Note: case rates for Nov 29–Dec 12 reflect two-week case rates through Dec 14

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Health care capacity

  • On December 28, 70 Alaskans with confirmed COVID-19 were hospitalized, a 36% decrease from this time last week; 10 were reported to have required a mechanical ventilator.
  • Hospital staffing can change quickly, particularly if a community has many health workers impacted by COVID-19.
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Further information

  • The Frequently Asked Questions webpage is often the quickest route to an answer regarding testing, travel, health mandates and other COVID-19 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.

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

December 30 ECHO Videoconference Calls

Participating in ECHO videoconferences hosted by the UAA Center for Human Development – Alaska’s UCEDD​ for DHSS are a great way to stay informed about COVID-19. Some ECHOs have been canceled this week due to the holidays. Here’s the schedule for today.

COVID-19 Science ECHO – for the general public, 12-1 pm. You can tune in via Facebook Live, @alaskachdCOVID-1

Vaccine ECHO – planning and operation updates to community partners, emergency managers, and immunization coordinators across Alaska, 2-3 pm. For the Vaccine ECHO, use this new registration link: alaska.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_oZCi77NWQ56m0ew9q5Mjrg You can tune in via Facebook Live, @alaskachdCOVID-1Learn more and register: http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/echo.aspx

For more info: akecho.org

News Release December 23: Unified Command’s Weekly Meeting


SITKA, December 23, 2020

Operations Sections Chief, Craig Warren reported that 106 vaccinations were given at the Sitka Firehall over two clinics for first responders and SEARHC has vaccinated approximately 500. SEARHC will hold an additional vaccination POD next week and will soon be providing the public with information about who is eligible.

Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing reviewed local Sitka case counts. The state will be receiving another shipment of vaccine from Pfizer for a Phase 2 vaccination POD. Juneau was impressed with the organization of Sitka’s vaccine POD for first responders and wants to replicate our process. Ewing supplied Juneau with local contact information along with pictures to help Juneau with the implementation of vaccine to their first responders.

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School gave a big thank you to community organizations who have offered to help make the students who remain on campus over the holidays.

Dr. Bruhl, SEARHC Incident Commander reported they had enough vaccine to get through Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan. The Moderna vaccine arrived in Sitka early this week and will be used in the smaller communities due to a longer shelf life. The Pfizer vaccine will be used in Sitka because of access to deep freezers for storage and to maintain vaccine stability. Vaccine distribution will start in the next 10 days for elderly community members over the age of 75. The local vaccine allocation and distribution plan is currently under discussion. Phase 1B, 1C and 2 will be distributed throughout our community by SEARHC, Public Health and Harry Race and White’s Pharmacy.

Katelyn Ylitalo, Harry Race Pharmacist announced they had two successful vaccination clinics and thanked Public Health and Sitka Firehall for their assistance in making it happen. Harry Race and White’s Pharmacy are preparing for upcoming clinics in January.

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.

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.

# # #

DHSS Survey indicates Alaskans are masking up and limiting activities


Contact: Clinton Bennett, DHSS, 907-269-4996, clinton.bennett@alaska.gov

Statewide survey indicates Alaskans are masking up and limiting activities

Dec. 23, 2020 ANCHORAGE – A statewide public opinion survey conducted among residents in late November reveals key insights into how Alaskans perceive the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps they are taking to combat the virus.

Among the survey highlights:

  • 82% report wearing a face mask “some or all of the time”
  • 82% believe it’s necessary to change their daily habits to prevent COVID-19
  • 75% believe masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19
  • 67% of respondents trust advice given by state health officials
  • 65% report limiting their own social interactions due to COVID-19
  • 64% plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available

“We’re encouraged to see a large majority of Alaskans respond to Governor Dunleavy’s message” said Commissioner Adam Crum. “We remain confident that collaborative efforts to inform Alaskans about how to best protect themselves and others is working. These survey results show Alaskans are listening and following the guidance, which is helping to slow the spread of the virus and get Alaskans’ lives back to normal faster.”

The survey was conducted Nov. 24-25, 2020 by Dittman Research. In total, 406 Alaskans participated in the survey. Survey questions asked respondents for their opinions on a variety of topics including the COVID-19 vaccine, prevention measures, Alaska’s response to the pandemic, K-12 education, and how individuals have been personally affected by the pandemic. The margin of error is ±4.9% (95% confidence interval) for the total sample.

Results from the survey may be downloaded here.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19

  • Isolate yourself if you feel any cold-like symptoms and get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
  • Avoid crowded places and gatherings with anyone outside your immediate household, especially indoor gatherings; keep social circles very small.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household.
  • Always have a mask on when you are around people outside of your household — even if you can maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
  • Wash your hands often and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and objects.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, notify all of your close contacts immediately; you can use the tracking sheet on the back of this flyer to help.
  • Please answer the call if a public health contact tracer calls you and follow their guidance.

Find assistance

  • If you or your family need food, housing, or other non-medical assistance, please contact Alaska 2-1-1 (dial 211 or 800-478-2221) or your local emergency operations center for help.

Stay informed about COVID-19

Subscribe to DHSS Alerts to receive daily case counts and weekly case summaries via email or text and follow DHSS on Facebook or Twitter

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Holiday Messages from Sitka Unified Command: Craig Warren

“Hello, this is Fire Chief Craig Warren, I am the Operations Section Chief for the Sitka Unified Command. With the holidays coming up, I’d like to say that everyone in Sitka has been doing so well supporting each other through this difficult time. We are practicing social distancing, limiting our time in group gatherings, and wearing masks around others. If we continue taking these steps to look out for our community, I have no doubt we will start to see fewer cases and start the new year off right. Thank you and Happy Holidays!” https://cityofsitka.org/