SITKA, August 25, 2021 – Acting Incident Commander Rob Janik reported the Pfizer vaccine had full FDA approval and he anticipated that it would eliminate one of the barriers for individuals that had not been vaccinated and hoped it would increase the vaccination rate. He said booster information would be out soon and that the third dose of the Pfizer vaccine was currently available for those that were immunocompromised. He said that the local case rate continued to decline from the peak at the beginning of August.
Janik stated the City and Borough of Sitka’s COVID-19 Dashboard would be transitioning to a new reporting model on September 1 to align with the model that was adopted, recommended, and used by the State Department of Epidemiology. He said the model currently used was also given by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services about this time last year which had been revised to better assess and report the risk in every community.
Dr. Bruhl, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Chief Medical Officer and Incident Commander was pleased that in Sitka SEARHC COVID-19 admissions had dropped significantly in the last 10 days. He relayed that there were no COVID-19 positive individuals hospitalized yesterday but that there are ebbs and flows, although the numbers were going down steadily. He said that was not the case for hospitals in the Anchorage area which continued to be full which was a threat as SEARHC patients were sent there. He said that they had been able to send patients to the Seattle area. He stated the situation was being monitored continuously and reminded that SEARHC in Sitka served as a regional center for all Southeast Alaska. He said they were collaborating with others in terms of making sure that people were taken care of.
He said that testing continued to be steady although not as strong as it had been and reminded SEARHC testing was available between the hours of noon and 3:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday across from the hospital.
He reported the third dose of the Pfizer vaccine was available for the immunocompromised and suggested those individuals call their provider if they had questions and/or to schedule. They were also working on a process for booster shots that were anticipated beginning in September. He relayed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) was a panel of experts that were in the process of reviewing data and coming up with a standardized plan for the country regarding the booster shot.
He stated the monoclonal antibody treatment, an intravenous (IV) infusion, was antibodies that an individual could receive if they were COVID-19 positive and met criteria and gave the example of an individual over the age of 50 that had health conditions. He said that the criteria continued to get broader. He stated the treatment reduced hospitalization and/or death which had proved to be a safe and effective treatment.
Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing relayed the State of Alaska DHSS Public Health Science Echo videoconference was informative for COVID-19 information along with general questions and was a good resource that took place every Wednesday from noon to 1:00 p.m. More information can be found by visiting Alaska DHSS.
Public Information Officers Melissa Henshaw and Jessica Ieremia reported on August 24 the assembly passed an extension of emergency ordinance for requiring the use of a face covering in certain indoor public settings or communal spaces outside the home.
Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School (MEHS) reported student arrival last weekend. She said there had been a few positive COVID-19 cases, and they had a robust testing schedule. She said there was a quarantine process that allowed for minimizing of close contacts. She noted there had been no spread on campus, that there were a few students quarantining and they would be retested. She felt that considering there were almost 400 students, having four positive cases was good and thought if they could get through the next week, they would be on to a successful year.
Sitka School District Superintendent Frank Hauser stated in person school began on August 23 with a lot of excitement and thanked principals and staff for the organized opening. He said in the current high alert level masks were required for students and staff. He said he had visited all schools and noted that staff and students were wearing masks but that it didn’t diminish the excitement that he saw. He told of the new rapid testing program where high school athletes and students in extracurricular activities tested weekly on Monday and other schools had a weekly testing day as well. He said the participation was good and felt encouraged to see the program continue to grow.
Lisa Gassman, Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) reported testing of staff and remote work. She thanked Dr. Bruhl and staff for the work that they were doing and for leading the way on communication with people and helping those that were in need.
Trish White, Harry Race Pharmacist reported a full vaccine clinic on Friday beginning at 10:00 a.m. next to Harry Race Pharmacy with a few first, 20 second, and some third dose vaccines scheduled. She said they would continue to hold Friday clinics and reminded that it was also the time of year for the flu vaccine which would be taking place mid-September on Fridays at the same location in the afternoon hours. Citizens may register for a vaccination clinic at Harry Race Pharmacy.
Due to the High Alert Level in Sitka, Sitka Unified Command recommends continued mitigation: face coverings 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.