Maintain COVID-19 Prevention Measures and Layer Up!

Let’s keep a lid on COVID-19, Sitka! To help prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus, including variant strains, be vigilant about prevention efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

~ Maintain six feet of physical distance from others outside your household.
~ Wear a face covering around others.
~ Wash your hands often and clean frequently touched surfaces.
~ Avoid gatherings and keep your social circles small.
~ Vaccinate when it is your turn.
~ If you start to have symptoms — even mild ones — isolate yourself from others and consult with a health care provider to decide whether to get tested.
~ If you get a call from public health, answer it, and take their advice on how to protect yourself and those around you.

COVID-19 Resources:
~ https://covid19.searhc.org/
~ https://covid19.alaska.gov/

COVID-19 Vaccine Registration

Sitka Unified Command encourages citizens to enroll for a COVID-19 vaccine. Currently there are two options for vaccine registration in Sitka.

The State of Alaska, in collaboration with Harry Race Pharmacy, is distributing vaccines based on CDC and State guidelines. Registration is now open for healthcare workers and individuals age 65+. To schedule an appointment call 1-907-646-3322, email covid19vaccine@alaska.gov, or visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/Vaccineappointments.aspx. Scroll to Option B and choose a “Harry Race Pharmacy at Sitka Fire Hall” clinic to register.

A vaccine is also available through SEARHC. Registration is available to all residents at https://covid19.searhc.org/. The SEARHC COVID-19 sequencing follows guidelines from the CDC and State of Alaska. As sequencing groups open, eligible individuals will receive an email from SEARHC to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Currently, SEARHC is scheduling those age 55 and older, all medically vulnerable individuals aged 16-64, and all essential workers. New clinics will be added as vaccine supply arrives.

Please assist your Elders and family members with online vaccine registration. In time, everyone who would like to get vaccinated will be able to.

State of Alaska Travel Reminder

A reminder from the State of Alaska. Visitors and Alaskans who have been out of state for 72 hours or more, must observe 5 days of strict social distancing upon arrival no matter what.

NOTE: You must still observe Alaska testing requirements, even if you have been vaccinated. Alaska only accepts molecular-based SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 test results.

For more information about Alaska’s COVID-19 travel regulations, visit https://covid19.alaska.gov/travelers/.

January 27 News Release: Unified Command’s Weekly Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES IMPORTANCE OF VACCINE REGISTRATION

SITKA, January 27, 2021  – Incident Commander, John Leach reported the case rate was decreasing and Sitka could be in low alert status as early as Thursday. He urged citizens to keep up the good work and continue prevention measures. To stay informed visit our COVID-19 Dashboard at https://cityofsitka.org/.

Harry Race & White’s Pharmacist, Dirk White relayed on January 27, they held a mini vaccination clinic and inoculated 17 people.  White thanked CBS for spearheading the COVID Conscious Business program in Sitka. He said it was a great way for the City to help promote business in Sitka. In total, Harry Race & White’s Pharmacy has completed 553 vaccinations as of Wednesday, January 27. To register for February vaccination clinics go to Harry Race Pharmacy at Sitka Fire Hall. Scroll down the page until you reach Option B and choose a Harry Race Pharmacy at Sitka Fire Hall clinic to register for your vaccination.

Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing encouraged Sitkans to continue mitigation measures with masking, washing hands and physical distancing and to enjoy a safe Superbowl. Ewing reminded citizens not to let their guard down, as of yesterday, the variant strain from the UK had been reported in Alaska. 

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School stated the on-campus risk level was now in low alert. She added when the City shifted to low risk students would have a little more freedom to interact with town.

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC Liaison shared that as January 27, in Sitka, SEARHC had given 1,845 first doses of vaccine and 618 individuals a second dose. To date 46,043 COVID tests in Sitka had been completed, resulting in 292 positive patients. SEARHC continues to test for symptomatic and those identified as close contacts. Bosak stated there asymptomatic testing was available for those needing to travel. If interested in receiving the vaccine register at https://covid19.searhc.org and be sure to leave a valid email address. Bosak reminded citizens to be part of the solution by vaccinating, masking, social distancing and practicing good hygiene. 

Sitka School District Superintendent, John Holst shared they were in low alert status and celebrating by having a basketball game with Mt. Edgecumbe High School January 27. The District had been warned by the Public Health Nurse that if the new variant gets a foot hold in Sitka, activities would be suspended due to how contagious the variant is. He reported all staff in the District who had expressed a desire to get immunized have taken the opportunity to do so.

Thor Christianson, Logistics and Assembly Liaison gave a report to the Assembly January 26. He thanked everyone for working hard and to continue to spread the message to sign up for the vaccine.

SEARHC Incident Commander, Dr. Bruhl reiterated how it continued to be a lot of hard work to maintain COVID precautions. He stated SEARHC was in the fourth sequencing tier and stressed the importance of everyone registering for a vaccine. Bruhl noted when registering, a valid email address was needed for SEARHC to notify individuals when tiers opened. Further, Bruhl explained registration numbers helped SEARHC plan for the number of nurses and staff needed to run the vaccine clinics. He stated after receiving the first shot, before leaving the clinic, you would be given an appointment for the second shot. Bruhl stated in this week’s clinics, SEARHC would be able to vaccinate an additional 800 people. In closing, Bruhl said the vaccine supply coming to SEARHC continued to be strong.  SEARHC was looking at receiving 3000 additional vaccines in February for distribution to Sitka and other service areas. Continue to register at https://covid19.searhc.org.

Unified Command recommends citizens to enroll for a vaccination online with Harry Race Pharmacy at Harry Race Pharmacy at Sitka Fire Hall 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 https://cityofsitka.org or https://covid19.searhc.org.

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Sitka’s Alert Levels Shifts from Moderate to Low

Way to go, Sitka! Our COVID-19 Alert Level has shifted from Moderate to Low! Keep up the great work!

The following mitigation guidance is recommended:

•Masks/face coverings recommended when 6 feet of distance can’t be maintained from others
•Maintain physical distancing of 6 feet
•Limit gathering size so a minimum of 6 feet can be maintained
•Restaurants: delivery or carryout preferred

Stay informed by visiting the CBS COVID-19 Dashboard at https://cityofsitka.org/.

Alaska Department of Health & Social Services Weekly Case Update for January 17 – 23, 2021

Brief status report

  • Virus transmission continues to slowly decrease across most areas of Alaska, although Western Alaska case rates remain high and increasing.
  • Vaccination of Alaskans continues, although supply remains the main limiting factor. The February allocation for Alaska is not yet known.
  • Alaska is currently the most vaccinated state per capita and in one ranking is the safest state in the US during COVID-19.
  • Alaskans who are 65 and older, healthcare workers or nursing home residents are eligible for vaccination. Other Alaskans may not register for appointments at this time. Alaskans receiving health services through a Tribal Health Organization or the Department of Defense should contact those organizations directly to determine their eligibility.
  • Alaska continues to monitor for new variants of concern. One travel-related case of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the UK in December and is thought to be more transmissible than other strains, has been found in Alaska.

What Alaskans can do

  • Every Alaskan who chooses to wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, and avoid indoor gatherings helps protect themselves and the health of all Alaskans.
  • New virus strains may be more transmissible. Masks, distancing, vaccination, avoiding gatherings, following all travel requirements, and other mitigation measures are our best tools to decrease the chance of the new variant entering Alaska and spreading.
  • Alaska Health Order 6 requires, at minimum, a test within 72 hours before arrival and strict social distancing for five days on arrival to Alaska. To stop new strains of virus from coming into Alaska and spreading, testing 1-3 days before travel, staying home for 7 days after travel and testing again 3-5 days after travel as laid out in the new CDC guidelines for international and domestic travel is highly encouraged. As of Jan 26, 2021, the CDC requires international travelers to show proof of a negative test from within the last 72 hours on arrival back in the US. The international test required by the CDC does not necessarily replace the test required for travel to Alaska, and travelers to Alaska are encouraged to be sure to obtain the correct type of test.
  • CDC guidelines recommend regular testing for critical infrastructure workers and other groups at higher risk for COVID-19, even if they are asymptomatic. 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 helps people know if they are positive quickly and helps prompt them to take immediate 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.
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Case trends and predictions

  • 1,300 new cases were reported in Alaskans last week. This is a 24% decrease from the week before and still reflects continued high-level community transmission throughout much of Alaska.
  • 14-day average daily case rates decreased across many regions of Alaska.
  • The largest increase was seen in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, from 136.3 to 155.8. A smaller increase was seen in Juneau, from 7.8 to 11.8. 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 statewide daily growth rate as of January 25, 2021 is -1.1% and new cases are expected to halve every 64 days based on current modeling, slightly slower than last week.   
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Regional case trends

Behavioral Health RegionCase rates
Dec 5– Dec 19
Case rates
Dec 13– Dec 26
Case rates
Dec 20– Jan 2
Case rates
Jan 3– Jan 9
Case rates
Jan 10– Jan 16
Case rates
Jan 17– Jan 23
Anchorage Municipality73.346.440.039.531.922.8
Fairbanks North Star Borough61.833.832.639.342.129.9
Interior Region except Fairbanks35.023.223.827.126.823.8
Juneau City and Borough17.014.713.67.47.811.8
Kenai Peninsula Borough60.740.022.319.219.613.6
Matanuska-Susitna Region62.048.248.248.240.723.8
Northern Southeast Region15.012.67.07.714.710.1
Northwest Region58.936.525.346.669.051.3
Southern Southeast Region9.05.06.110.09.05.0
Southwest Region89.050.942.535.841.035.1
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region158.073.3144.2152.8136.3155.8
Statewide65.241.138.639.836.728.9

Vaccines status update

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update Reported vaccinations as of January 25, 2020.

  • 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.
  • Currently eligible groups for vaccination include those in Phase 1a: healthcare workers and residents in nursing homes, and those in Phase 1b Tier 1, Alaskans aged 65 or older. Other groups in Phase 1b may not register at this time but may register as soon as vaccination opens for their phase and tier. All registration for vaccines should go through the registration system on covidvax.alaska.gov , which also has an eligibility tool for any Alaskan unsure of when they can receive the vaccine. All updates on phases and tiers will be posted on that website and new appointments are added on a continuous basis; Alaskans are encouraged to check it frequently.
  • The State of Alaska vaccine allocation of 78,000 does not include Tribal or military allocations, which are separate. The IHS allocation is tracked on the dashboard, which also notes vaccinations by behavioral health region.
  • A limited amount of vaccine is currently available with more expected to be delivered in the coming months. As of January 23rd, more than 80,000 Alaskans had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine and more than 17,000 had received both doses. On January 18, the New York Times vaccination tracker had Alaska second only to West Virginia for percent of residents vaccinated. The Alaska vaccine tracker is available online as is a vaccine dashboard for more up-to-date data.
  • There is a several day lag in reporting some vaccinations so the dashboard does not yet reflect all vaccinations that have been given. All vaccines allocated to Alaska for December and January have been distributed or are otherwise intended for a specific appointment within the month of January.
  • 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 January 17 through January 23, 2021, 1,300 new Alaska cases were reported, a 24% decrease from last week, for a total of 51,610 cumulative cases in Alaskans.
  • Cumulative hospitalizations increased to 1,161 with 10 reported as occurring this week. Hospitalization reports often lag and only 1,130 hospitalizations were reported at this time last week, so there are 31 hospitalizations newly reported this week including ones that began during previous weeks.
  • Deaths among Alaska residents increased by 29 (257 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 Jan 17–Jan 23 may be reported in future as death certificates are reviewed.
  • 48 new nonresident cases were identified this week, for a total of 1,642 cases.
COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Health care capacity

  • On January 25, 42 Alaskans with confirmed COVID-19 were hospitalized and 7 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.

Total Confirmed COVID-19 Beds Occupied

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Cases by Week Reported and Age Group

COVID-19 Alaska Weekly Update

Additional informational resources:

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

Message From Sitka Public Health Nurse: Even After Virus Shots, Keep Up Precautions

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Daily Sitka Sentinel Staff Writer

January 26, 2021 – A COVID-19 vaccination means an extra layer of protection for the individual, but Sitka’s Public Health Nurse said it doesn’t mean you should drop other precautions.

“After your vaccination – even both shots – you still need to practice usual pandemic precautions,” public health nurse Denise Ewing said. “Stay clear of crowds, continue to wear good masks in public, wash your hands and practice good hygiene and staying six feet or more away from people outside your household.”

Ewing, who was scheduled to get her second dose of Pfizer today, said receiving two doses of the vaccine provides protection against the virus but doesn’t mean you should resume pre-pandemic practices.

She noted Sitka’s high vaccination rates, with more than 20 percent of eligible residents receiving a first or second dose. The state of Alaska has the highest vaccination rate in the nation. Ewing said that’s good news for moving forward, but the vaccines are one of many “layers” of protection needed. She said the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are definitely part of the picture for controlling the spread of the virus.

The December issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reported that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine provides some protection after 12 days, with the efficacy rising to 52 percent a few weeks later (around the time the second dose is administered), Ewing said. A few weeks after the second dose, the efficacy rises to 95 percent.

Results were similar for Moderna, Ewing said, with the efficacy rate at 51 percent two weeks after the first dose and 94 percent two weeks after the second dose.

Pfizer doses are given three weeks apart, and Moderna, four.

“Whether you get the Pfizer or Moderna, you’re still getting 94-95 percent efficacy,” Ewing said. “However that’s not 100 percent – it means one out of 20 who get vaccinated can still get moderate to severe infection. That’s one of the reasons we continue to practice pandemic precautions.”

She said because the vaccines are new, a number of questions related to those who have been vaccinated remain. Those include: “Is it possible to get infected? Is it possible to be asymptomatic, and be infected and be able to shed the virus? They’re studying that right now.”

She added, “In the public health world if we don’t have a definitive answer, we act like the answer is yes.”

That means health providers are recommending a continuation of precautions for now, “until new studies have been done and we have more answers,” she said.

Vaccinations are an important part in the goal to protect individuals and reduce the amount of virus circulating in the air, which may eventually lead to a reduction in precautions, she said.

“Eventually, we can look forward to relaxing mitigation measures but that’s not now,” Ewing said. “In the future we’re going to have to learn to live with this. Likely viruses will flare up from time to time and that will be the new normal. It’s not going to (disappear) but we’ll get better at protecting ourselves against it.”

While it appears Moderna and Pfizer will provide protection from the new COVID-19 variants being discovered, Ewing said, “to what degree, we don’t know.”

“There’s more to come on that,” she said, advising against “getting too caught up” in every aspect of the virus.

“Taking it all in and not letting it be overwhelming is a good proactive measure,” she said.

Ewing became state public health nurse in Sitka in October 2019. Since the pandemic struck she has helped put out information to the public, organized contact tracing, and worked on vaccination programs. SEARHC and Harry Race Pharmacy have been running separate vaccination clinics assisted by state public health and Sitka Fire Department. Ewing is also a liaison in the coordinated local response to the pandemic, which has included healthcare, city, education and emergency response leaders.

In February, Ewing will hold vaccination clinics in the small Southeast communities of Port Alexander, Port Protection, Point Baker, Port Armstrong, Hidden Falls and Little Port Walter. She said she also is working with local seafood processors on plans to vaccinate workers before the herring season, and to vaccinate others in congregate living and work settings who have not already been covered.

SEARHC reported today giving the first Pfizer shots to 1,259 individuals, and second shots to 618. Harry Race, which has been holding clinics at the fire hall, reported giving 320 first shots of the Moderna vaccine, and 107 first and second doses of Pfizer.

SEARHC has clinics for Pfizer vaccinations scheduled for January 27, 28 and 29. Both Harry Race and SEARHC announce clinics as vaccine becomes available.

DHSS Press Release: Testing and lab sequencing detects first case of variant SARS-CoV-2 strain in Alaska

January 26, 2021 ANCHORAGE – The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) announced today that an Anchorage resident who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection last month was infected with a variant strain of the virus known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in September in the United Kingdom. This is the first identification in Alaska of the B.1.1.7 strain, or any of the variant strains that are raising concerns among public health officials.

“Viruses constantly change through mutation so it’s not unexpected to find variants of the virus,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. “However, B.1.1.7 is one of several SARS-CoV-2 variants that has been carefully tracked because it appears to spread more easily and quickly than other strains of the virus.”

As of Jan. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counted 293 cases of B.1.1.7 in 24 states, according to a CDC webpage that keeps track of COVID-19 variant cases in the United States. 

“We’re not surprised this variant has been detected in Alaska,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “We’ve been sequencing the viral genome from a subset of positive test samples to detect the presence of variants as quickly as possible.”

Alaska’s Public Health Laboratories have been sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome from positive cases around the state since March 2020 to monitor circulating strains in Alaska. When significant variants began to be detected globally this past fall, the state labs directed those sequencing efforts to look for the presence of these variants in Alaska. To date, roughly 4-5% of all positive COVID-19 cases have been sequenced. This is four times higher than the national average for COVID-19 sequencing and on par with efforts in the United Kingdom.

The person who tested positive in Anchorage had recently visited a state where the variant has already been detected. After returning home, the person first experienced symptoms on Dec. 17, was swabbed on Dec. 20, and received a result on Dec. 22. The individual isolated after being notified of the positive result, according to contact tracers. The individual lived with one other person who also became sick, tested positive and was successfully isolated. Both individuals have since recovered.

“The two patients remained in isolation and stated that they did not have contact with others,” Dr. Zink added. “We are hopeful that transmission of this particular variant stopped with these two individuals, but we will very likely detect the variant strain again soon.”

The CDC has warned that this variant could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by late spring and has the potential to drive further increases in infections in coming months.

The variant sample was first screened by the Alaska State Virology Laboratory in Fairbanks on the same day of test collection, Dec. 20, and was found to be missing the spike gene, indicating it was a possible variant. The sample was part of a group of over 300 specimens with spike gene target failures that have been sequenced over the past three weeks to examine viral genomes for variants, a process that normally takes about a week to analyze roughly 100 genomes. The lab’s initial analysis determined the sample was the B.1.1.7 variant. This finding was then confirmed by a University of Alaska Fairbanks laboratory. DHSS notified the CDC Monday that the variant had been found in Alaska, albeit an imported case.

“Sequencing is an important tool to keep track of coronavirus variants circulating in Alaska,” said chief of the Alaska Public Health Laboratories Dr. Jayme Parker. “We’ve been keeping up this effort since last spring and are grateful to have strong collaborations with our universities to gain even more sequencing capacity at this time.”

To help prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus, including variant strains, Alaskans should be vigilant about prevention efforts to stop the spread of the disease.  

  • Maintain six feet of physical distance from others outside your household.
  • Wear a face covering around others.
  • Wash your hands often and clean frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoid gatherings and keep your social circles small.
  • If you start to have symptoms — even mild ones — isolate yourself from others and consult with a health care provider to decide whether to get tested.
  • If you get a call from public health, answer it, and take their advice on how to protect yourself and those around you.

To learn more about variants and the effort to search for them within Alaska, visit the DHSS COVID-19 variants webpage. Visit muni.org/COVID-19 for more information on COVID-19 in Anchorage and for more information about other states and nationally, visit the CDC webpage on variants.

Stay informed about COVID-19

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