NEWS RELEASE: September 22 Unified Command Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES DASHBOARD AND BOOSTERS

SITKA, September 22, 2021 – Incident Commander Craig Warren stated it had been two weeks since Unified Command had met. He reported continued comments to field citizen concerns with the updated City and Borough of Sitka (CBS) COVID-19 Dashboard especially with the 14 positive COVID-19 cases from yesterday. He told of many questions surrounding if the positive cases were from travelers or secondary or community spread to know where in town it was taking place and know where to stay away from. He reminded that the metrics had always been provided by Public Health and the State Department of Health and Social Services Section of Epidemiology and the data was the only numbers Sitka would receive.

Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing relayed the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee met to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine booster and review the data. Based on the scientific evidence available including safety and effectiveness data, the committee voted to recommend Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosters to limited groups. She said the recommendation would be discussed at the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting scheduled September 22 and 23, which anticipated further guidance for boosters and the CDC authorizing boosters for limited groups. She stated then Alaska providers would be able to provide booster vaccines to those specific groups. She stated more details and information would be out next week. To keep updated visit covidvax.alaska.gov. She said as we work on mitigation strategies and staying current with vaccines, she also urged all to not ignore six simple basics: stay active, get adequate sleep, pay attention to diet and nutrition, health care maintenance, cope with stress and anxiety, and to stay connected.

Thor Christianson, Logistics reported no issues with being able to get medical supplies although some brands were not available.

Public Information Officer Melissa Henshaw reported fewer inquiries and concerns of the changes to the CBS COVID-19 Dashboard and a few social media posts for when new information was available along with reminders of the recommended mitigation.

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School (MEHS) reported continued implementation of their mitigation plan. She stated there were some positive COVID-19 cases that were caught through a combination of testing from those identified as close contacts as well as screening testing but that it had been contained and the mitigation plan had been working as designed. They were happy to be fully in person and continued to have quality education while mitigating COVID-19 and able to take care of students that needed to be isolated or quarantined.

Sitka School District (SSD) Superintendent Frank Hauser reported what had appeared to be a Labor Day spike in cases and relayed they had their first active COVID-19 cases connected to SSD buildings two weeks ago. He said it was students and/or vaccinated staff that had tested COVID-19 positive. The SSD website had a list of schools and cases which would continue to be updated. He reminded that COVID-19 was contracted from many situations and locations including travel, family, friends, or out in the community and they had couple of the students come to school with COVID-19 symptoms. The SSD contacted parents of the schools according to notification procedures (available for review on their website) and stated if parents were not contacted then their student was not in contact with any of the COVID-19 positive individuals. He asked that everyone keep students’ home if they were sick or if anyone in the household or among close contacts were sick. Several of the positive cases were identified using new screening testing. To date, they had tested hundreds of students along with staff and would continue to provide testing to bring students and staff back into buildings safely.

He stated the COVID-19 testing permission form could be found on the SSD website which could be filled out and returned to the office. Schools test weekly and the schedule was on page two of the form. The COVID-19 positive cases connected to buildings currently represent not even 1% of the student population. In contrast, those Alaskan districts that started school without masking, reported 10 times the COVID-19 positive cases and multiple school closures though most have switched to masking. SSD layered mitigations including masking and testing helped to identify and isolate positive cases and bring students back to in person learning safely. Several of the cases listed on the website would come off this week as those individuals would have competed their isolation period. Information on the SSD website would continue to be updated Monday through Friday, visit https://www.sitkaschools.org/.

Anne Davis, Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) reported continued remote work for staff, their offices remained closed unless by appointment, and staff was being tested every two weeks.

Henshaw relayed for Trish White, Harry Race Pharmacist of continued COVID-19 vaccine clinics on Friday mornings. The public may sign up at http://www.sitkapharmacies.com.

Finance Section Chief Melisa Haley reported meeting with FEMA to go over the projects that had mostly been paid out with the exception of one pending. She said there were admin fees to submit, but that once submitted it forced all projects closed and we would no longer be able to submit for reimbursement. She was leaning toward not submitting to allow for flexibility. She said that unless incurring significant expenses, it would not be worth the time to pursue federal funding, but that it was something to look into.

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.

For information on the local pandemic response, visit https://cityofsitka.org or https://covid19.searhc.org.

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