Sitka’s growing COVID-19 outbreak continued this week, with a further 62 cases of residents reported Tuesday and Wednesday as the number of cases nationwide rose by 472 in total over the same two-day period.
On Monday, a visitor leaving Sitka tested positive for the virus and then boarded an Alaska Airlines flight at 6 p.m. 6 Tuesday along with three others according to a message from the local public health nurse. All four showed symptoms of COVID-19.
Officials from public health, state epidemiology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “all tried to stop the passengers from boarding the plane,” according to the statement published in the Sentinel. The flight went to Juneau, where the group was connected to Seattle.
Alaska Airlines was contacted by the CDC after the group was on its way to Seattle, a spokesman for the airline said Wednesday.
“Our management team met the flight upon landing and informed the guest that they would not be allowed to proceed to their final destination. “No Alaska staff, including those in Sitka and Juneau, were aware that a guest who had tested positive for COVID-19 had boarded the aircraft until the CDC contacted us,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement. “Our medical experts have reiterated that the risk of transmission for anyone who was not in close contact with this passenger remains low.”
The average rates in the community of just over 8,500 are among the highest in the country at the county level.
Sitka Fire Chief Craig Warren, the event manager at the city’s emergency center, said he had been sending emails “non-stop all day” from people asking him to do something. But, Warren said, he is limited in his authority.
“I’m asking Sitkans to do the right thing,” Warren said Wednesday afternoon. “After 18 months, they know what it is: Get vaccinated, wear a mask, practice social distance and good hygiene.”
As of Wednesday, Sitka had more than 200 active cases and an average 14-day rolling case rate over 15, according to the municipal dashboard. The outbreak is the worst the community has suffered since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to a New York Times tracker.
The mentality in the city these days is reminiscent of “last year”, where the pandemic still limited the interaction, said Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a legislator from Sitka.
“I think people organically dampen their social interactions and all that,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
The difference now: Nearly 70% of Sitkans are fully vaccinated so residents can resume normal activity, although some refuse to get shots and some vaccinated people also test positive.
“People’s guards are down, they’re returning to normalcy,” he said. “I was determined.”
The growing number of cases comes as the first major cruise ship to call at Alaska waters since 2019 arrived in Sitka on Wednesday. The Serenade of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean, was located at the community cruise ship dock 11 km north of the center of Sitka.
The ship carries about 630 passengers, about a quarter of the 2,476 passengers it can accommodate, according to Gene Sloan, a blogger on board, who described his first impression as being on a ship empty enough to feel like a private yacht. Passengers must wear masks in the ship’s interior, and some areas such as the casino and pub are without limits for passengers not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Almost everyone aboard the Serenade of the Seas or about 97% of the passengers and crew are vaccinated, Royal Caribbean said in a statement on Tuesday.
The recently reported Sitka cases are among 435 infections among Alaskans reported in the last two days in the state with a new COVID-19-related death, according to Wednesday data released by the state Department of Health. A further 37 cases were reported among non-residents.
The person who died was a woman in her 70s from the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area, the state health department said.
“We had two days that were over 200 cases,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Louisa Castrodale during a weekly briefing on Wednesday. “You’ve heard how things turn red all over the state.”
Much of Alaska was in the high alert level, shown as red on cards from Wednesday.
Admissions continue to rise throughout the country. On Wednesday, state data showed that there were 70 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 hospitalized around the state. In the second half of June, the number hovered between 10 and 19.
Hospitals in Anchorage are busy with occasional emergency room warnings in “diverted” status without available beds – a rolling situation that could change quickly. Government officials say it is a busy time of year for ERs, with trauma-related injuries from people recovering, but also people seeking medical procedures that they have delayed over the past year.
“It’s not just COVID,” said Heidi Hedberg, the state’s public health director, during Wednesday’s briefing.
A total of 375 Alaskans and seven non-residents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state last spring.
Alaska’s death rate per Population remains among the lowest in the country, although state size, health care system and other factors complicate national comparisons.
Health officials continue to urge Alaskans to be vaccinated against the virus, noting that the vaccines have been shown to be extremely effective in preventing serious disease from the virus, including the more contagious variants.
About a third of the new cases in Sitka are now among vaccinated people, local emergency officials say. City officials are asking people to wear masks, whether or not they have been vaccinated; to maintain the distance in public places and stay at home if you feel sick.
The recent increase in cases is likely due in part to the highly contagious delta variant, which was first identified in India in December and in Alaska in May, health officials have said. The newer strain has been linked to higher hospitalization rates and is considered the most transferable variant yet.
On Wednesday, approx. 57% of the state’s population aged 12 and older received at least their first dose of the vaccine, while 52% of all residents 12 and older were considered fully vaccinated. Among all states, Alaska ranked No. 33 in the country for the most vaccinated residents per capita. Inhabitant.
Of the 435 resident cases reported Tuesday and Wednesday, 153 were in Anchorage; 62 and Sitka; 27 in Juneau; 22 in Homer; 21 in Palmer; 19 in Cordova; 15 in Wasilla; 14 each in Fairbanks and Soldotna; 11 and Kodiak; 10 in Seward; six each in Bethel and Kenai; five each in Chugiak, Eagle River and Ketchikan; fire in Sterling; three each in Hooper Bay and Unalaska; two each at Anchor Point and Utqiagvik; and one each in Douglas, Girdwood, the North Pole, Sutton-Alpine and Valdez.
In communities less than 1,000 that were not identified to protect confidentiality, there were eight in the Bethel Census Area, six in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough, three in the southern Kenai Peninsula Borough and one each in Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs, Copper River Census Area and Kusilvak Census Area.
There were 37 non-resident cases: seven in Cordova; seven in Sitka; six in Wasilla; fire in Anchorage; four in the Kenai Peninsula district; to i Homer; and in the Prince of Wales-Hyder Census Area; and six in unidentified regions of the state.
Of all the coronavirus tests conducted in the state over the past week, 5.35% returned positive.
Note: The Department of Health now updates its coronavirus dashboard on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays excluding public holidays.