News Release February 17: Unified Command Meeting

UNIFIED COMMAND DISCUSSES EXPIRATION OF DISASTER DECLARATION AND NEW HEALTH ADVISORIES

SITKA, February 17, 2021  – Incident Commander, John Leach reported Sitka was at a Low Alert Level and Sitka’s case rate continued to decrease. He announced that while in Low Alert, Unified Command would meet every other Wednesday. Since the last meeting, the State’s Emergency Declaration had expired, and four new Health Advisories had been issued. With the Disaster Declaration expiration, Leach stated initially he was concerned about three things:  1) continued airport testing 2) receipt of vaccine allocations 3) FEMA reimbursement if no State Declaration in place. That said, Leach was confident with where things were at (airport testing and vaccine distribution were still happening). He noted he had heard of a possible extension of the Disaster Declaration and that it may be back dated retroactively to the date it had expired. With regards to FEMA reimbursement, he noted spending had been minimal except for emergency personnel overtime. He shared Sitka’s vaccination rate was over 50%.

Leach noted as of February 11, the CDC guidance related to quarantine had been updated to read:

  1. People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, excluding people who have had COVID-19 within the  past 3 months and people who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months and recovered do not have to quarantine or get tested again as long as they do not develop new symptoms.
  2. People who develop symptoms again within 3 months of their first bout with COVID-19 may need to be tested again if there is no other cause identified for their symptoms.
  3. People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated against the disease within the last 3 months and show no symptoms.

The CDC and Sitka Unified Command recommend continued mitigation guidance along with getting vaccinated. To stay informed visit our COVID-19 Dashboard at https://cityofsitka.org/.

Public Information Officers, Jessica Ieremia and Sara Peterson reminded the public that even though the Disaster Declaration had expired, a pandemic still exists, and people needed to continue to do the right thing and take mitigation efforts against the disease.

Public Health Nurse, Denise Ewing confirmed that case numbers continued to be low and Public Health was focusing on contact tracing and COVID-19 education. She shared her vaccination effort in small rural communities continues.  The first two weeks of March she was scheduled to be in Point Baker and Port Protection. The State was currently in Tier 1B with seafood processers and essential workers over the age of 50 able to receive a vaccination. Ewing reminded the public that the vaccine is a tremendous layer of protection along with masking and social distancing.

John Holst, Superintendent of the Sitka School District said the High School was starting to make plans for graduation. School was in progress and their main concern right now was the more contagious variants. Holst was happy to report that staff Immunization rate was over 85%. 

Amy Ainslie, Unit Resource Leader shared there were 12 organizations taking part of the Sitka COVID Conscious Business Program. She encouraged businesses interested in applying to visit cityofsitka.org and click on the Sitka COVID Conscious Business Program link at the top of the page. For questions email covidconscious@cityofsitka.org.

Craig Warren, Operations Section Chief reported that with the decrease in cases the Fire Department was not seeing many COVID-19 patients being transferred in or out of Sitka. He reported Silver Bay Seafoods was bringing in 135 employees for the herring season and they were planning to remain at status quo with their 2020 mitigation strategy. He reiterated all processors in Sitka were committed to keeping the community safe.   Warren reminded Sitkans that the vaccine was not a force field. Even if you’ve received a vaccine you can still become infected and may transmit the virus. Warren said he would keep the station closed to the public but in March the Firehall would be opened for training volunteers in the field.  

Janelle Vanasse, Superintendent of Mt. Edgecumbe High School relayed the school was thrilled Sitka had moved to Low Alert and the students could now visit town. Vanasse said students were competing in sports and it was working out well. Mt. Edgecumbe has planned an in-person graduation however understand things could change due to COVID-19. The school has remained in communication about potential changes with parents. Parents have been interested in what the vaccines mean for them being able to come visit their children and attend graduation. Vanasse stated parents were still required to test but if they were fully vaccinated, parents would not need to quarantine before coming on campus.

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC Liaison shared that as of February 17, in Sitka, 48,683 COVID tests had been completed. To date there had been 3,050 first doses and 1,692 second doses completed in Sitka.  SEARHC continued to have vaccine clinics happening through February. The clinics averaged about 300 people per clinic. She said SEARHC was scheduling vaccinations for ages 16 and older. If interested in receiving the vaccine register at https://covid19.searhc.org and leave a valid email address.

Jay Sweeney, Finance Section Chief relayed the Finance Department received the last piece of backup for September 1 -December 31 project. The project would be sent to the Finance Director for a signature and then submitted to a State Department at Homeland Security for review. Wages for temporary EMS workers were the only expense being charged to FEMA at this time.

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.

# # #