NEWS RELEASE: October 13 Unified Command Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES DASHBOARD, VACCINES, AND MITIGATIONS

SITKA, October 13, 2021 – Incident Commander Craig Warren reported Unified Command was and would continue to meet every three weeks since there were no projects. However, Unified Command would continue to keep member’s listed positions so that if issues were to arise, a meeting could come together quickly. He stated that the City and Borough of Sitka’s IT team was having difficulty with automating the COVID-19 Dashboard to update as soon as data posted to the state site so there were fluctuations in the timing that the data was posted. He also relayed the vaccination rate system was built to account for a first and second dose, but the third and booster doses were affecting the numbers. He said the state was trying to correct it, but that in the meantime, there may be glitches.

Shoshauna Schmidt filling in for Dr. Bruhl, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Chief Medical Officer and Incident Commander reported one COVID-19 positive patient at the hospital. She gave an update on administering COVID-19 vaccines, stating that SEARHC had given 900 third dose/booster vaccines which was approved in late September. She said SEARHC had completed over 1,200 flu shots as well. She told that SEARHC was offering combined clinics for both the booster and flu vaccines two days a week; the next clinic would be October 19, 20 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. She stated the clinics would continue through the fall and winter as Moderna and Johnson and Johnson booster COVID-19 vaccines became approved as well vaccine approval for broader populations including pediatrics hoping by early November. She stated that the recommendation for cross vaccinating was to continue with the same vaccine brand.

Planning Section Chief Rob Janik reported distributed tests and BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Cards and would be leaning on SEARHC if need be, for supplies.

Public Information Officer Melissa Henshaw reported few calls and questions coming in along with continued social media posts to relay information.

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School (MEHS) reported continued mitigations that seemed to be working well. She stated there were no positive COVID-19 cases currently on campus. She congratulated Region 5 and all the Southeast Alaska schools for their commitment to require mitigation for sports including those coming from outside the region. She said that a team was going to come to town, but because of testing requirements, they discovered several COVID-19 positive cases on that team which allowed them to take care of that and avoid spread. She noted the common message to ask visiting teams to test before coming and felt like it was going to make a big difference for all teams in the region to continue sports for the students.

Sitka School District (SSD) Superintendent Frank Hauser reported four currently active COVID-19 cases associated with the SSD buildings which represented less than 0.4% of the total student population. He stated their mitigations were insuring that previous active cases were declining. He reminded parents to keep students’ home if they were sick or if anyone in the household or among close contacts had COVID-19 symptoms or COVID-19 like symptoms. He said data showed that school had started with more COVID in the community than other regions, but that there had been less COVID-19 or related interruptions in the schools because of mitigations and working together with SSD, the community, parents and students which kept students in schools and schools open. He stated that COVID-19 cases seemed to be on the decline in Sitka and hoped that the downward trend continued and noted mitigations would shift accordingly. In the meantime, he said that they were miles ahead of where they were last year when students were still learning remotely. He stated the students had already completed a successful quarter, full-time, in-person instruction. He met with Sitka High School Student Council, and they relayed that the students were grateful to have a full-time, in-person school day even if the day included masks and mitigations. He said a plan was in place that was working, the schools were in-person, and they would keep steadily moving forward.

Trish White, Harry Race Pharmacist reported continued COVID-19 vaccine clinics on Friday mornings, and seasonal flu vaccine clinics in the afternoon which included the 65 and older high dose vaccine. She stated they had administered approximately 300 to 350 third/booster doses. She said they were waiting to hear possibly tomorrow from the meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to decide about booster doses for Moderna and Johnson and Johnson along with waiting for authorization for children to be announced. The public may sign up at http://www.sitkapharmacies.com.

Anne Davis, Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) reported continued office closure and staff was being tested every two weeks.

Public Health Nurse, Grace Roller reported continued active cases that was keeping Sitka in the red (high alert level) and although it was slowing down, there had been an uptick today. She stated Public Health was investigating them as they come in. She stated all schools were doing a great job with their mitigation strategy noting how well-contained they were for the cases that they had. She said they were gearing up for vaccination season with a lot of calls and traffic for that although they have not had received their flu vaccines yet, but they were coming. She told of excitement for vaccination for children hopefully in November. She relayed that she had heard that the dose crossover was recommended to continue with the same brand unless it was not available, and someone felt like they needed the third dose. She stated that Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing would be back in the office in November.

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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