NEWS RELEASE: July 14 Unified Command Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES POSITIVE COVID-19 CASE RATE INCREASE

FACE MASKS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED FOR INDIVIDUALS REGARDLESS OF VACCINATION STATUS

SITKA, July 14, 2021  – Incident Commander, Craig Warren told of the case rate increase. A total of 60 new positive COVID-19 cases were seen with 18 considered breakthrough in the last week. A breakthrough infection defined as the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA or antigen in a respiratory specimen collected from a person 14 or more days after they have completed all recommended doses of a vaccine. He warned that not only was Sitka the high alert level, but this was also the highest rates we had ever seen. He stated that more individuals were showing symptoms. He told of the message that he and Dr. Bruhl conveyed to the Assembly at their meeting on July 13th on how to be safe regardless of vaccination status, which was to social distance, wear a mask, and consult a healthcare provider on the vaccination.  

Dr. Bruhl, SEARHC CMO and Incident Commander stated the need for folks to get fully vaccinated. He said that getting the second dose in a 2-dose series made a big different in the effectiveness. He stated that vaccine safety was well established. He noted that individuals were doing well with the vaccine, and he praised those that have been vaccinated and Sitka’s high vaccine rate. He said that it showed when you had a variant that was more transmittable and by having unvaccinated groups associating with each other, it led to an outbreak. He emphasized; the effectiveness of the vaccine was high. Within the last few weeks, it had been documented that the COVID-19 vaccine had been proven to be 79-88% effective and that they were highly effective in preventing serious disease which prevented hospitalizations and deaths. He stated no one had been admitted to the hospital in the last day and the number of discharged patients was 4-5 in the last few days.

Dr. Bruhl reminded regardless of vaccination status, if someone had symptoms, they should get tested. He stated that SEARHC had walk up testing at a structure behind the Emergency Department seven days a week at noon until 3:00 p.m. He asked that those who showed symptoms such as fever, aching, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell to call Urgent Care at 747.1722.

Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing stated she had been busy the last two weeks and that the State brought on extra employees for contact tracing along with UAA and other sources such as National Guard assistance which had been a great resource. She noted the complications of the State employment when case count numbers were under control there was an excess of 500 employees which were cut back in stages, but then it caused a limited number of employees to assist in contact tracing. She had been working with other communities to get assistance in this recent Sitka surge.

She did not think the surge was going away anytime soon and thanked everyone for their patience as there were only two at Public Health handling the increase in cases. She said Public Health had been spending many hours managing information coming in and calls for contact tracing. She stated that Public Health was still able to vaccinate but that they had scaled back as there were other avenues to obtain the vaccine and they were focusing on other tasks although seafood plant employees had been coming in to receive vaccines.

She encouraged those to take advantage of the testing noting the many opportunities. She stated it was crucial in order to flatten the curve and said to test as soon as you know that you have been around someone that was COVID-19 positive especially with the variance that was suspected in the community in order to keep safe. She said it was contagious and symptoms lasted longer but that the vaccine was working as it was intended to prevent hospitalizations and to reduce symptoms. She stated vaccination was important along with wearing a mask and social distance regardless of vaccination status while in high alert level. She said that mitigations should be taken when around others that were travelling and others that were not in your immediate bubble to keep safe until this surge passed.

Public Information Officers, Melissa Henshaw and Jessica Ieremia reported they had been ramping up social media posts and the calls received had been a variety of questions although minimal.

Trish White, Harry Race Pharmacist said that the next vaccine clinic for Friday was over 70% of first doses in a two series vaccine and urged those to get an appointment if they did not have one by visiting www.sitkapharmacies.com or by going to the SEARHC site at https://covid19.searhc.org/.

Adam Kersch with Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) relayed that STA had reinstated a masking policy and remote working for employees. He stated the bingo hall was closed for the next two weeks and that STA was encouraging vaccinations.

Finance Section Chief Melisa Haley reminded that she was proceeding with closing out the FEMA project but that if there were any additional overtime or restructure for call outs, it would be charged to the operating budget and to notify her if there were any significate costs.

Sitka School District Superintendent Frank Hauser stated this was his first meeting. He said that the School District was monitoring the surge closely as well as CDC guidelines and was working with Public Health and others. The School District was looking at protocols as there were students in the schools currently and were following protocols for wearing masks.

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School said that they were monitoring CDC guidelines and were making additional changes for when all students returned in the fall.

Due to the High Alert Level in Sitka, Sitka Unified Command recommends continued mitigation: face masks are strongly encouraged for individuals regardless of vaccination status, maintaining physical distance of 6 feet along with following CDC guidelines CDC Guidelines.

We urge citizens to remain diligent and practice proper hygiene measures, such as washing your hands often, avoiding close contact with others. In addition, get tested but 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. 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 Sitka Emergency Unified Command continues to urge citizens to enroll for a vaccination online with Harry Race Pharmacy at Harry Race Pharmacy and with SEARHC at https://covid19.searhc.org/. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated to be safe and effective. COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of people spreading the virus. Being vaccinated is the best way to protect our community.

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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