COVID-19 daily update:
August 6, 2020
State releases further guidance on interstate travel
The state has released further guidelines for the changes made to state health mandate #11, which oversees the arrival of residents and non-residents into Alaska.
Starting Aug. 11, both incoming residents and nonresidents will be required to upload their travel declaration form and self-isolation plan directly to the state through the Alaska Travel Portal, according to the mandate. Although the website isn’t finalized yet, all persons arriving in the state will be required to upload their negative test results, or proof of pending test results to the website as well.
Alaskans will have to show proof of a negative test result that was taken 72 hours prior to departure for the state, though testing upon arrival will still be available at no cost to residents. Any resident with a pending test result will have to quarantine until the results are received. Alaska state residents will also have the option of quarantining for 14 days instead of taking a COVID-19 test.
Alaskans will also have to show proof of residency in the form of a state driver’s license or ID, an Alaska Tribal ID or an activity duty military or active duty dependent ID. If someone recently moved to Alaska for work, but doesn’t have proof of residency yet, the individual can submit an employment verification letter as a form of residency in the state.
For non-residents, they must upload a negative test result to the Alaska Travel Portal from a test that was taken within 72 hours of departure, or have results available for screeners at airports. If test results are still pending by the time of departure, non-residents will have to upload proof that a test was taken within 72 hours of departure, or have proof of the test available for screeners at airports. The individual must quarantine while waiting for the results of a pending test.
COVID-19 tests for non-residents are still available upon arrival in Alaska, but they will have to pay $250 per test. Non-residents will have to then quarantine while awaiting results. Additionally, the 14-day quarantine option in lieu of a negative test result is no longer available for non-residents.
At the COVID-19 community update on Friday, Aug. 7, Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said the two most recent cases of COVID-19 in the community have since recovered, though the information was given to him from the local public health nurse office and not the state.
“I think it’s an indication of how swamped the state's contact tracers are,” said Hagerman.
The two confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported among non-residents who arrived in town last month through the Petersburg Airport, immediately got onto a vessel in Petersburg Harbor and left town.
Hagerman said residents have begun lining up outside of the Petersburg Post Office to retrieve their packages. After the post office switched their window service hours to just two hours a day, residents have been queuing up in a line that stretched through the building and out the eastern most door. By lining up outside, those waiting in line are reducing the likelihood that they transmit COVID-19.
Petersburg Medical Center Electronic Health Records and Technology Systems Lead Matt Pawuk reported that the hospital has collected 2,485 test samples to be tested for COVID-19 on site or at outside laboratories as of Friday, Aug. 7. Of those test samples collected, about 2,186 have returned negative and 291 are still pending.
Pawuk said in the last 30 days, PMC has tested 17 percent of the local population, and in the last two weeks, 11 percent of the population has been tested. Pawuk noted that the total test samples collected is a mix of residents, non-residents and individuals who have been tested multiple times. Since the pandemic began, PMC has tested a total of 965 residents and 464 non-residents.
As of Friday, Aug. 7, the borough was reporting a total of 12 cumulative cases in town, which is about .49 percent of the population, said Pawuk.
PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said the one-half percent infection rate in town is significant because it shows the hospital has been keeping up with COVID-19 testing in town. If the local infection rate in town was 5 percent or higher, it would mean PMC wasn’t testing enough, said Bacom, because there would likely be more cases in town that the hospital hadn’t tested yet.
“Those are all very good signs, very good numbers,” said Pawuk.
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said at the COVID-19 community update on Friday that the state has finally expanded the eligibility of its AK CARES program. Businesses or 501c3 non-profit organizations that have received $5,000 or less in federal COVID-19 relief can now apply to the program. Cabral said if a business or a non-profit organization received more than $5,000, say $6,000, the business could return $1,000 back to the federal government in order to be eligible for AK CARES; although, Cabral said the state hasn’t explained the details of how that would work.
Anyone receiving housing assistance through the Alaska Housing program can apply for rental relief if they have experienced a loss of income due to the pandemic, said Cabrera. Those interested can call 1-833-958-8406 to apply.
Additionally, the Salvation Army is offering food and rental assistance to local residents.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, the Petersburg School Board held a special meeting to approve the Alaska Smart Start framework that the district will be operating under in the fall. Although the school board postponed their vote until their Aug. 11 meeting, Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said at Friday’s COVID-19 community update that the district received important feedback from the public regarding their start up plan.
“We know people have questions, we know this is challenging,” said Kludt-Painter. “We do want to work with our families and our community.”
The school board did, however, vote in favor of pushing back the first day of school for students by an additional week to Aug. 31. Teachers will be returning to work on Aug. 18, and have not had much time to work through the Alaska Smart Start plan or offer their opinion on how it should be implemented, said Kludt-Painter.
Interstate travel restrictions coming for non-residents
Starting Aug. 11, non-residents entering the state of Alaska will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result that was received within 72 hours.
More information is expected to be released by the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services next week, but a negative test result issued within 72 hours of arrival appears to be the only way a non-resident can enter the state. The state will no longer allow non-residents to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday, July 31.
“There’s a tremendous amount of questions surrounding the announcement that we just don't have answers to yet unfortunately,” said Hagerman.
He said Alaska residents traveling back into the state will still have various testing options upon arrival, but the exact details are still unknown.
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom reported at the COVID-19 community update that PMC collected 2,123 local test samples to be tested for COVID-19 or sent to state or commercial laboratories to be tested for the virus. Of those test samples collected, about 1,856 have returned negative and 259 are still pending.
According to the borough, as of Friday, July 31, there have been six cumulative local cases of the virus and six cumulative cases from non-residents. The two active cases are among non-residents and not thought to be in the community. Hagerman said he anticipates the state to record Petersburg’s two active cases as recovered in the coming days.
Bacom said the asymptomatic testing of cannery workers that live in town has been moving forward smoothly. Previously, there weren’t measures in place to prevent a local cannery worker, who is not restricted to the cannery and bunkhouse like out of state workers, from spreading the virus to other workers in the canneries. The borough approved a memorandum of agreement with PMC earlier this month to fund asymptomatic testing of Petersburg resident cannery workers.
Tonight, July 31, the Petersburg School Board will be holding a meeting to talk about state guidelines on how the School district can reopen. A special board meeting is expected to be held next week to take action on tonight’s discussion.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said the state recently released a 45-page document containing guidelines on how schools should operate in the fall. The previous document was only 11 pages.
“We had to step back again and take the admin team and look at proposals and ideas and step back a little bit,” said Kludt-Painter.
She said the new set of guidelines put stricter measures in place for communities that are facing a large number of positive COVID-19 cases.
While the school year was expected to start on Aug. 24, Kludt-Painter said school will likely start at least a week late to allow the School district time to put an operation plan in place. With about 450 students and over 80 adults, the start of the school year is going to be the largest social gathering in town since March, said Kludt-Painter.
Two active cases of virus not in town
Two positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified among non-residents who arrived in the community on July 20, according to a joint-statement between the Petersburg Borough and Petersburg Medical Center on July 23.
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said on Friday, July 24 that the two individuals submitted test samples upon arrival at the James A. Johnson Airport and immediately got onto a charter boat in Petersburg harbor and left town.
“They are, as far as I’m aware, not in Petersburg, and I think the contact tracing is continuing,” said Hagerman.
He said he has not been able to establish contact with the charter boat and is unwilling to release the name of the charter company unless they give their consent. Hagerman said the charter boat is not homeported in Petersburg and he doesn’t know if the boat will be returning to town.
As positive cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in Alaska, Hagerman said the chances of someone contracting the virus who is at high risk of facing complications increases as well.
“The more cases we have, the more possibility there is for somebody to have a very negative reaction to the virus and possibly die,” said Hagerman.
He said he is in support of a local face covering mandate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Hagerman said face masks are an easy way to ensure that businesses and the local economy continue to stay open. He noted that the decision to enact a local face covering mandate is up to the assembly; however, due to the politicization of face coverings, Hagerman doesn’t see support for such a mandate at the assembly level.
However, state health alert #10 is still in effect, which recommends everyone wear a face covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Hagerman.
Petersburg Medical Center reported on Friday that 1,817 local test samples have been collected to be tested for COVID-19 or sent to state or commercial laboratories to be tested for the virus. Of those test samples submitted, about 1,524 have returned negative and 286 are still pending. According to the borough, as of Friday, there have been six cumulative local cases of the virus and six cumulative cases from non-residents. The two active cases are among non-residents and not thought to be in the community.
PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said the public can expect to continue to see a high number of pending tests as the hospital increases its asymptomatic testing. Turnaround times for COVID-19 test results could start decreasing next week as PMC has added another outside lab to the list of labs it sends its sample tests to.
Bacom warned that a majority of new cases of the virus are among adults between the ages of 20 and 40. That age group probably has the highest number of new cases because they are the ones working and interacting in communities, said Bacom.
“If you are interested in helping us all stay healthy, no matter who you are or how old you are, think about potential exposure and how you can keep your neighbors and friends from getting sick,” said Bacom.
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said at the update on Friday that the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Southeast Conference will be holding a virtual meeting at noon on Aug. 7 to answer questions about the Alaska CARES program. The program is designed to give financial support to businesses and nonprofits who did not receive federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, though the program is expected to broaden its eligibility requirements.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said surveys have been going out to parents and community members on how school should look in the coming year, and a majority of responders are interested in as much in-person education as possible. Kludt-Painter said the amount of in-person instruction depends on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Petersburg.
“When things are better in the community then we’re able to have a little more flexibility, so that is helpful to us,” said Kludt-Painter.
The School district is also discussing what schedules could like look in the fall. To make sure students are social distanced in classrooms, Kludt-Painter said the School district may have to split students up into two groups and alternate the days in which they’re in class, or have one group come in the mornings and the other in the afternoons. Each schedule would be supplemented with distance learning.
Zero active cases of virus in town
There are currently zero active cases of COVID-19 in Petersburg, according to a joint statement between the Petersburg Borough and Petersburg Medical Center released on Thursday.
“It’s a nice place to be,” said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday, July 17. “That’s a nice number. Zero active cases is the perfect number for Petersburg.”
Hagerman confirmed on Friday that cases of COVID-19 that were reported locally, from both residents and non residents alike, had recovered from the virus. On Wednesday, July 15, the borough was reporting five active cases.
The Emergency Operations Center is currently working on developing a plan to address protocols that limit the spread of COVID-19, such as face covers, the number of people in one gathering and business operations. Hagerman said the plan wouldn’t be forced on the public, but instead it would give guidance to those that want to do everything they can to prevent spreading the virus.
Petersburg Medical Center reported on Friday that 1,619 local test samples have been collected to be tested for COVID-19 or sent to state or commercial laboratories to be tested for the virus. Of those samples, about 1,300 have returned negative and 310 are still pending. According to the borough, as of Friday, there have been six cumulative local cases of the virus and four cumulative cases from non-residents.
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner said on Friday that test samples that are being sent to outside labs have had unusual turnaround times. Some test results come back in one or two days, while others have been taking up to two week to return. She said test samples are still being sent to outside labs because the rapid testing machine at the hospital only produces about 16 test results a day.
“There’s just no way to do all of the tests we’re doing in Petersburg,” said Bryner.
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said at the COVID-19 community update on Friday that the Small Business Administration has stopped distributing cash advances for its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program because it has run out of funding; however, there is still cash available for the loans themselves.
Cabrera also said Congress will be working on a fourth round of COVID-19 aid. The package may include tax credits for businesses related to rehiring employees and retaining them. There may also be another stimulus check for the public included, said Cabrera.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said on Friday that a large number of people participated in the school district’s second survey seeking feedback on the upcoming school year. A stakeholders meeting, made up of parents and community members, was held this week to review the input.
“As usual, people are clearly engaged and interested in what is happening with the youth in our community and we are grateful for it,” said Kludt-Painter.
She also said it has been challenging trying to put in place the required guidances for the new school year, and asked families to be patient as the School district tries to come up with the best learning environment for their students. One struggle that she noted was trying to deal with social distancing within the schools. If Rae C. Stedman Elementary School students were to be six feet apart in the building, that would require six more teachers and six more classrooms, said Kludt-Painter.
Local resident contracts virus in Washington
On Thursday, the Petersburg Emergency Operations Center was made aware of a Petersburg resident currently in Washington who has tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the cumulative cases of the virus locally for both residents and nonresidents to nine, according to a joint press release between the Petersburg Borough and Petersburg Medical Center.
Even though the Petersburg resident contracted the virus outside of Alaska, the case is still being recorded among local and state case numbers.
“They are not in the community and will not be in the community until they recover and are able to travel again,” said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at Friday’s COVID-19 community update.
In late April, the Borough Assembly approved a quarantine and isolation program for first responders, healthcare workers and homeless individuals and families to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 in the community. Hagerman said the community hasn’t been taking advantage of the program. Only a few homeless individuals used the non-congregate housing while waiting for a COVID-19 test result when the program was first implemented.
Hagerman said non-residents cannot quarantine or isolate in the non-congregant housing because state health mandate #10 requires visitors to Alaska to quarantine at their own expense.
On Wednesday, July 15 at 12 P.M., the Borough Assembly is expected to hold their first regular meeting of the month after being cancelled twice. Among the agenda items for the meeting is a discussion on possible protection actions the borough can take in the future in case of a local COVID-19 outbreak.
“To head into the rest of the summer without some kind of a plan to protect our local economy, that doesn't seem like a very good idea to me,” said Hagerman.
Public Health Nurse Erin Michael told the community at the COVID-19 update on Friday that as confirmed cases of the virus increase throughout the state, so has the contact tracing interviews. Michael said the state is bringing on additional staff from the University of Alaska, Anchorage and National Guard to help with the workload. Additionally, the state is reducing the number of times public health officials reach out to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, but aren’t symptomatic or in a high risk group to free up time.
Petersburg Medical Center reported Friday that 1,399 local test samples have been collected to be tested for COVID-19 or sent to state or commercial laboratories to be tested for the virus. Of those samples, 1,053 have returned negative and 342 are still pending. According to Hagerman, there are six cumulative local cases of the virus, two of which are active, and three cumulative non-resident cases, of which two are still active. One of the two active resident cases is the individual who tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington.
PMC Electronic Health Records and Technology Systems Lead Matt Pawuk said on Friday at the community update that while there have been 1,399 test samples collected, only 23.7 percent of the local population has submitted test samples. He said 758 locals and 243 non-residents have been tested. Of those tested, 280 have been tested more than once, said Pawuk.
He has also been a part of the PMC crew that has been greeting incoming travelers at the airport and collecting test samples. For the most part, people don’t mind having a test sample collected, but there are those that aren’t as cooperative. Pawuk said the individuals who aren’t too eager to have a test sample collected usually change their outlook once they realize how non-invasive and streamlined the process is.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said no one wants students to attend classes in person more so than teachers and staff, but precautions have to be made to ensure everyone’s safety.
“This is not a political conversation for us,” said Kludt-Painter in response to national dialogue revolving around the opening of schools in the fall. “We’re placed in a political position, but it is not our mission to engage in a political discourse about this ... It’s turning into conversations that aren’t helpful for us as we come up with a workable plan.”
The School district is sending out a second survey to parents and the community this week to receive feedback on how to best reopen in the fall. A stakeholders meeting is expected to be held next week to go over the results of the survey.
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said the deadline to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program has been extended until Aug. 8. Multiple Petersburg residents applied for Alaska Housing Finance Operation’s housing relief program and can expect to be contacted by a representative of the Salvation Army now that the application deadline has passed to verify loss of income, said Cabral.
The Internal Revenue Service will be sending out letters to anyone who has received their stimulus check via debit card, but have yet to activate it, said Cabral. The letter will also include instructions on how to request a new debit card if it has been lost. At a past COVID-19 community update, Cabrera said some people were accidentally throwing away their debit cards with the stimulus money on it because they thought it was just junk mail. The outside of the envelope didn’t have any insignia stating the letter was from the federal government.
Visitor infected with virus remained mostly isolated
The individual who has tested positive for Petersburg’s latest case of COVID-19 did not make any stops in town before arriving at Rocky Point Resort on Monday, and had been mostly isolated from others outside his party, said Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Thursday.
Upon arriving at the Petersburg Airport, the individual was tested for COVID-19 and then traveled straight to the lodge. The Petersburg Borough and Petersburg Medical received news on Wednesday that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19. He and his party were all in the same cabin where they received all their meals. Except for a half a day trip with a guide, the party had been self-guided in their fishing trips the entire week, said Hagerman.
“At this point, I think it’s safe to say the risk to Petersburg is pretty low,” said Hagerman.
The Public Health Nurse Office completed contract tracing on the individual Thursday afternoon, which Hagerman said he takes as a sign that the infected individual didn’t come into contact with too many people. The individual will remain in quarantine until he is fully recovered.
On Monday, the Borough Assembly may consider another memorandum of agreement between the Petersburg Borough and PMC. The agreement would allow the borough to fund an asymptomatic COVID-19 testing program through PMC with money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for cannery workers who live in town year round.
There are no preventative measures in place to prevent a local cannery worker, who is not restricted to the cannery and bunkhouse like out of state workers, from spreading the virus to other workers in the cannery.
“The potential is there for one of those people to inadvertently pick up the virus and spread it in the plant, which could be disastrous,” said Hagerman. “Not only for the processing companies, but also the fishermen and the community.”
PMC reported on Friday that 1,048 test samples have been collected to be sent to a state or commercial laboratory to be tested for COVID-19. Of those tests that have returned, 865 have come back negative, 171 are still pending and four have returned positive, but only one is still active.
A local cannery worker with Trident Seafoods tested positive for COVID-19 several weeks ago and has since recovered, but that case isn’t being recorded among PMC’s COVID-19 test count it releases daily.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, there are 1,017 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Of those cases, 535 have recovered, 68 required hospitalization and 14 have passed away.
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner informed the community that people with properly functioning lungs and cognitive ability can wear face coverings safely. She said she has never heard of face coverings damaging lungs.
If someone does have respiratory issues or delayed cognitive ability, like someone with advanced dementia, then that person shouldn’t wear face coverings, said Bryner. Those under two years of age shouldn’t wear face coverings either.
“There are a few people who shouldn’t wear a mask, but for the majority of the people who are able to do activities, masking can be very safe,” said Bryner.
Petersburg School District Erica Kludt-Painter said at the COVID-19 community update on Friday that the School district is preparing to send out a second survey to families to seek input on how it should operate in the fall. Another stakeholder meeting is also planned to go over the results.
The deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program loan was extended from June 30 to Aug. 8, according to Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera. Additionally, the state has yet to make expected changes to the Alaska CARES program. The changes will allow both businesses and non-profit organizations that have received some sort of federal assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for the Alaska CARES funding.
Ferry passengers out of Bellingham to be tested before departure
Although out of state visitors coming into Petersburg through the airport are met by greeters and screeners, visitors getting off a ferry will likely not be received by a group of borough employees, according to Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday, June 26.
The state is mandating that anyone riding a ferry out of Bellingham to Alaska will have to have tested negative for COVID-19 before getting on the ferry. Hagerman said there might not be anyone present to greet incoming visitors at the ferry terminal, but there will be information available to let the passengers know where to get their second COVID-19 test in Petersburg.
Dave Berg, co-founder of Viking Travel, said at the COVID-19 daily update that a negative COVID-19 test result is not required for ferry travel between Southeast Alaska communities, but a negative test will be required if someone is traveling across the Gulf of Alaska. Berg also said that passengers on board a ferry will not be permitted to get off the vessel until they reach their final destination or have to connect to another ferry.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued an emergency order on Friday, June 26, that requires the city’s residents to wear masks in certain indoor settings, reported the Anchorage Daily News. Hagerman said the borough could consider putting a similar mandate in place again.
Hagerman said the community was vocal about their support and disapproval of the mandate and that the topic has become political.
“It is much less a question about ‘is this the right thing to do’ and more of a question of ‘if it should occur’ just for political reasons,” said Hagerman Friday.
He said the community may be more approving of a local face masking mandate as the COVID-19 case count continues to climb locally and throughout the state.
Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter said at the community COVID-19 update on Friday that PMC has collected 804 test samples to be tested for COVID-19 at state and commercial laboratories. Of those test samples, 699 have returned negative, 102 are pending and three have returned positive but have since recovered.
“The high pending amount is directly related to the number of tests we’re doing, so we’re getting a lot more asymptomatic tests,” said Hofstetter.
Last week, Trident Seafoods reported that one of their workers tested positive for the virus. Because PMC isn’t processing the test samples collected by the canneries, their numbers don’t appear in the same count that the hospital puts out each day. The individual who tested positive for COVID-19 has not recovered, and Trident Seafoods hasn’t reported any other cases among its workforce, said Hagerman.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, there are 836 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Friday, June 26. Of those cases, 519 have recovered, 67 required hospitalization and 14 have passed away.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael said that Alaskans have become fatigued with the COVID-19 prevention protocols, but she encouraged the public to continue following them.
“When you have community infection and travelers coming in and out of the community and people aren't taking those measures, that’s when you're going to see an increase in cases,” said Michael at the COVID-19 community update Friday.
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said the Small Business Administration has announced that commercial fishing businesses can account for their crew when applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan. Previously, the crew had to apply separately as an 1099 employee, or independent contractor.
If a commercial fishing business owner has already applied for the PPP loan, but the bank has yet to file the paperwork, they could still modify the loan to include their crew. The deadline to apply for a PPP loan is June 30.
Those who don’t file taxes, but want to receive a federal stimulus check have until Oct. 15 to apply for one, said Cabrera. She warned those who are receiving their stimulus money that it may come in the form of a debit card and to check their mail carefully. The cards come in envelopes that don’t specify the parcel is from the federal government; as a result, some have thrown the envelope away thinking it is junk mail.
On Thursday, the Petersburg School District held its first stakeholder meeting to discuss the results of a recent survey that sought input on how the School district should operate in the fall. PSD Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said 161 people responded to the survey, which represents about 310 students. Thirty-three people attended the virtual stakeholder meeting.
“People are concerned, involved and invested,” said Kludt-Painter.
Community suspect lodge patrons not following protocol
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said the Emergency Operations Center is aware of concerns regarding visitors to local lodges who may not be following interstate travel protocol laid out in state health mandate #10.
When an individual arrives at the Petersburg Airport from out of the state or country, the person is to fill out a travel declaration form and be screened. Unless the individual shows proof that they received a negative COVID-19 test result three days before arriving in Alaska, the individual will have to test negative for the virus upon arrival in Petersburg or self quarantine for 14 days before moving freely in the community.
Hagerman said the greeters and screeners don’t have the authority under state health mandate #10 to detain incoming passengers and verify where they’re coming from; as a result, those coming into the community from out of Alaska can simply say they’re coming from another part of the state and skip the entire screening process.
“It’s probably not a great plan, but it’s what we have and what [the state is] seeing from us,” said Hagerman.
He said the EOC will be reaching out to the local lodges to inform them of the intrastate and interstate requirements in place by state health mandate #10 and correct any misinformation.
Additionally, lodges have been seen dropping off their patrons at grocery stores after they arrive in town, raising concern among the public, said Hagerman. He noted that incoming lodge clients could be arriving in the state with proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, which would allow them to interact with the community.
The state has begun developing a test that would detect traces of COVID-19 in wastewater to determine how prevalent the virus is in a particular community. Hagerman said Petersburg is on a list of communities that would like to have their wastewater tested when the program becomes available in the coming weeks.
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom reported 597 tests samples have been collected to be tested for COVID-19 locally or sent to a state or commercial laboratory. Of those test samples that have been tested, 557 have returned negative, 37 are still pending and three have returned positive but the three individuals have since recovered.
On Thursday, a positive case of COVID-19 was detected among Trident Seafoods employees, according to a press release from the EOC. Bacom said the hundreds of COVID-19 test samples from cannery workers that have been collected aren’t reported in PMC’s local testing numbers, which includes the one confirmed case of the virus.
All Trident Seafoods employees that travel to Petersburg are tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving in town and are quarantined in a bunkhouse upon arrival, according to the press release. The workers are then tested again on the tenth day of a 14 day quarantine. It was on the individual’s 10th day in quarantine when the person tested positive for the virus.
The individual's roommate was also tested on the tenth day of their 14 day quarantine, but tested negative for COVID-19, according to the press release. Both the individual that tested positive for the virus and the roommate have been isolated and will be in quarantine until released by the Department of Epidemiology.
As of Friday’s COVID-19 community update, Hagerman said there haven’t been any updates regarding the positive case of COVID-19. The individual that tested positive and the roommate are still in isolation and have been moved to separate rooms. Hagerman said both individuals are being monitored and will be quarantined for another 14 days and will have to test negative for the virus before being able to work.
Alaska’s COVID-19 response grant program, AK CARES, is being adjusted because the state found that none of the businesses that applied were able to receive funding, said Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera at the COVID-19 community update on Friday. Only those businesses that did not receive federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act were eligible. Cabrera said the program may be altered to allow anyone who received less than $5,000 in CARES Act funding to apply for AK CARES.
“That’s a really positive change for some of the businesses in town, making them now eligible for that program,” said Cabrera.
The Small Business Administration has also made changes to the requirements for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to allow all types of businesses to apply, said Cabrera. Only agricultural businesses could apply for the program previously. The SBA also put out a new application to apply for forgiveness for the Paycheck Protection Program that is easier to fill out.
Petersburg had a 15.6 percent unemployment rate in April and 15.2 percent unemployment rate in May, said Cabrera. The .4 percent change between the two months was a result of 12 residents finding work. In May 2019, the unemployment rate in town was nine percent, said Cabrera. Statewide the unemployment rate in May was 12.6 percent and in Southeast Alaska it was 13 percent.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said at the COVID-19 community update on Friday that the School district had a good return rate on the surveys that were sent out to families last week that sought input on how they would like to see the School district respond to the pandemic in the upcoming school year.
The School district is also in the process of creating a stakeholder group that would represent the community. The group will review the surveys and address families’ concerns.
“We ask for patience from our families as we work through this and know that we’re doing our very best to provide a quality program for your kids,” said Kludt-Painter.
Borough screening but not testing at airport
The borough has begun screening incoming passengers at the Petersburg Airport that are arriving from out of the state and country, but onsite testing has yet to begin, according to Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday, June 12.
As of Saturday, June 6, tents, tables and temporary borough workers are greeting incoming passengers at the airport. If an individual is arriving from another part of Alaska, then they can enter the community. If the individual is arriving from outside of the state or country, then they are directed to a screening area.
As per the updated state health mandate #10, those coming into the state will either have to show proof that they received a negative COVID-19 test result three days before arriving in Alaska, receive a negative test result upon entering Alaska or quarantine for 14 days before being allowed to move about Alaskan communities.
Hagerman said at the start of the week, there weren’t that many passengers who had negative test results on hand, but as the days went by, more and more were arriving with proof they didn’t have COVID-19.
“The process is getting smoother and smoother every day,” said Hagerman.
While testing isn’t available onsite, those that need to be tested are given a voucher to be tested through Petersburg Medical Center. Additionally, the state is asking anyone already arriving in the state with a negative test result to maintain a distance from others until a second test can be administered seven to 14 days later in Alaska, according to Hagerman.
“There’s no strict quarantine, but they’re still asking people to limit interaction,” said Hagerman.
Critical infrastructure workers whose companies have submitted summer work plans to the state, such as cannery workers, still have to abide by those plans, said Hagerman.
PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter said the hospital is making plans to collect test samples at the airport, but they will likely be sent to commercial laboratories because the state lab is backlogged at the moment due to airports around the state sending in test samples.
Hofstetter also reported that PMC has collected 435 test samples to be sent out to state and commercial labs to be tested for COVID-19. Of those test samples, 421 have returned negative, 11 are still pending and three have returned positive, but the individuals have since recovered.
“The number of tests that have been administered keeps increasing,” said Hofstetter. “As long as we keep getting those negatives back, we’ll be pleased.”
As of Friday, the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services has reported 625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. Of those cases, 403 have recovered, 51 have been hospitalized and 12 Alaskans have died. There were 15 new cases of the virus reported by DHSS on Friday.
On Monday, the Borough Assembly will mull over several COVID-19 related items. The assembly will determine whether or not to extend public health mandate #5, which requires cruise ships arriving into town to receive approval to dock at least 24 hours prior, through the end of August. The assembly will also vote whether to allow assembly members to meet in the assembly chambers for meetings, though the public would still be required to submit comments remotely. The assembly will also decide whether to make the emergency ordinance a permanent law. It established the Emergency Operations Center and allowed it to put mandates into place a permanent law. The emergency ordinance would only be in place during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, a tsunami and an earthquake.
While there aren’t any active cases of COVID-19 in the community, Public Health Nurse Erin Michael said she has been busy with contact tracing throughout the state. She also warned the public at the COVID-19 community update on Friday to continue wearing face coverings and follow other COVID-19 prevention protocols.
“I encourage people to not get complacent and think it can’t happen to them,” said Michael. “As we see across the state, it obviously can.”
Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said at the COVID-19 community update on Friday that there’s a new COVID-19 relief program in the state. The Alaska Housing Relief program provides up to $1,200 for rent or mortgage relief. Applications will be collected from June 15 through 26, and the grants will be awarded at random. Residents can apply online at alaskahousingrelief.org or call 833-440-0403.
Local nonprofit organizations and childcare facilities can apply for some of the borough’s Coronavirus, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding through the Nonprofit and Childcare Stabilization Program. The deadline to submit an application is June 26, said Cabrera.
The Petersburg School District sent out the first of many surveys to receive some guidance on how best to instruct students next fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Borough to screen incoming travelers
An updated version of Gov. Dunleavy’s state health mandate #10 will take effect early Saturday morning and will set new guidelines for residents and visitors who are entering Alaska from the lower 48 or another country.
According to the revised mandate, travelers into the state will have to meet one of four requirements upon arrival to avoid having to self quarantine for 14 days. They can be tested for COVID-19 before traveling, or they can be tested in Alaska when they arrive. If the individual has recovered from the virus three weeks prior to arriving in Alaska, is asymptomatic and has a medical provider’s note of recovery, then the person doesn’t have to quarantine when they arrive in the state. Lastly, Alaska residents who are traveling out of the state, but return within five days don’t have to be tested for COVID-19 or have previously recovered from the virus to avoid having to quarantine.
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said on Friday at the COVID-19 community update that the borough will begin offering screening and testing services at the Petersburg Airport. He said he was under the impression that the state had a plan in place on how it would test individuals arriving at the airport from out of state, but the state is having the communities provide that service.
“Getting that realization three days before the system was supposed to be in place at our airport was less than convenient I have to say,” said Hagerman.
The borough likely won’t be able to test for COVID-19 at the airport until late next week, said Hagerman. Anyone arriving from out of state until then will have to quarantine for 14 days. The screening and testing services will eventually be extended to other forms of transportation, like the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Businesses which have already submitted plans to the state on how to safely bring seasonal workers into the state still have to follow their plans, said Hagerman.
Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter reported at the COVID-19 community update that the hospital has collected 348 test samples that have been submitted to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19. Of the test samples submitted, 325 have returned negative, 20 are still pending and three have returned positive, but the individuals have since recovered.
Now that travelers have to provide evidence that they have tested negative for the virus, Hofstetter said PMC calls individuals to inform them they have the virus. While the hospital doesn’t give out a piece of paper confirming the individual has tested positive for the virus, PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said people can get it if they request it.
Bacom also encouraged the public to get a flu shot when they become available in the fall to prevent the flu from circulating in the community at the same time as COVID-19.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael said current data shows that COVID-19 has a higher death rate than influenza. During the last flu season, 34,000 people died as a result of the flu, but there have already been over 100,000 deaths in the United States due to COVID-19, said Michael. As of Friday afternoon, there have been 108,064 deaths related to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“COVID is clearly a major issue that we do need to be concerned about,” said Michael at the COVID-19 community update on Friday. “I think it’s really important that people don’t discount it and think it’s not something they should be concerned about.”
Now that the regular school year is over, students have begun attending summer school, said Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter at the COVID-19 update. Students are meeting in small groups with district aides and reading to each other. In July, a more intensive summer school program will begin for students who need extra support as they move into the next school year.
The district’s meal program is continuing into the summer. Kludt-Painter said meals will be provided for all students, like it was during the school year, because the School district was able to qualify for a community eligibility provision.
On Thursday, state officials met with the district to go over some possible plans for the upcoming school year. Kludt-Painter said the plans for the fall semester will be determined on a district-by-district basis depending on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities. There are also guidelines for social distancing and face coverings.
“There’s a lot for us to chew on,” said Kludt-Painter.
ACL summer plans dependent on interstate quarantine mandate expiring
As American Cruise Lines looks to port its American Constellation cruise ship in Petersburg this summer, ACL CEO Charles B. Robertson said at the COVID-19 community update Friday that this summer’s Alaska plans are contingent on the state’s interstate 14 day quarantine mandate expiring.
State health mandate #10 requires anyone arriving in Alaska from outside the state or country to have to quarantine themselves for 14 days before moving around freely. The mandate is set to expire on June 2, but it can be extended like it has in the past.
The first expected sailing of American Constellation’s roundtrip voyage out of Juneau through Southeast Alaska will begin June 26, according to Robertson.
The cruise line has an operating protocol in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among passengers, crew members and the communities it visits. Passengers will be tested for COVID-19 before traveling to Alaska and will be tested again upon their arrival in Juneau before they board the ship, said Robertson. The cruise ship will be reducing its maximum capacity by 25 percent, down from 175 to 130 passengers.
The extra space onboard the American Constellation will allow for the crew and passengers to social distance themselves. Isolation rooms will also be available for anyone showing signs of COVID-19.
“We think that it takes pretty significant measures to take responsibility for our guests and crew and to ensure that we can operate safely in each area,” said Robertson.
The cruise line will also regularly screen passengers and crew members. If someone does contract the virus, the individual will be quarantined on the cruise ship and contact tracing will also be conducted. Anyone requiring significant medical attention would be medivaced to Juneau or Seattle, said Robertson. Only those that have COVID-19 or have come into close contact with the infected individual will have to isolate themselves, said Robertson. The rest of the passengers would continue on with the cruise.
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said he supported American Cruise Lines’ protocol plans at the COVID-19 community update.
“I didn't really find anything in the plan that raised my eyebrows too much,” said Hagerman. “The one thing to remember is plans are great, but following through with the plan is really what makes it effective.”
He said he hadn’t heard any definitive plans on whether or not state health mandate #10 would be extended past the June 2 expiration date. He said he has heard rumors about the health mandate expiring and being extended.
The Borough Assembly is expected to discuss American Cruise Lines’ plans for docking in Petersburg this summer at their assembly meeting Monday, along with local health mandate #5, which requires small vessels to receive permission from the local health officer prior to arrival in Petersburg.
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom reported that the hospital has collected 274 local test samples that have been sent to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19 as of Friday’s COVID-19 community update. Of those test samples, 267 have returned back negative, six are still pending and three have returned positive, but the individuals have since recovered.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported five new cases of COVID-19 in the state on Friday, bringing the state total up to 430. Of those that have tested positive, 367 have recovered, 47 have been hospitalized and 10 Alaskans have died. Bacom said that in addition to the state’s 430 cases, 18 individuals have tested positive for the virus, but they aren’t included in the state total because they aren’t Alaska residents.
PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter said on Friday that the hospital is focusing on its asymptomatic testing capabilities. PMC expects to receive 600 cartridges to be used to test for COVID-19 locally.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said the district’s meal program will continue into the summer, though it will be a bit reduced and have fewer drop off points. Summer school is expected to start next week. The School district is partnering with the Petersburg Public Library and will include some small group work.
Kludt-Painter informed the public that the School district is doing everything it can to provide a safe learning environment in the fall. She said she is holding off on detailing how classes will be held next school year, because she wants to wait to see how the COVID-19 situation in the state changes throughout the summer.
“I know there’s a lot of anxiety about what things will look like next year,” said Kludt-Painter. “I just want to reassure people that no one wants school to look normal more than we do.”
Businesses can operate without restrictions
Phases three and four of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan took effect Friday, May 22, which removes restrictions on how businesses can operate.
The next two phases in the plan are split up into four categories: individual actions, business responsibilities, community mitigation measures and special populations. Under individual actions, the state encourages Alaskans to continue the behaviors that they have been practicing over the past few months, such as social distancing and face masking, though the state isn’t requiring those behaviors.
Business responsibilities give businesses guidelines on how they can operate safely, instead of mandating they follow certain restrictions like in the past. The requirements laid out in state health mandate #16 that businesses had to follow to open their doors again have all become advisories, said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday.
“To say there are no restrictions is technically correct, but there is an expectation that business owners will still have an effort to protect their employees and patrons that come in through the door,” said Hagerman.
The community mitigation section of phases three and four puts the burden on municipalities of coming up with their own mitigation efforts should an outbreak occur in their community, though the state would assist with those efforts.
Special populations focuses on the state health mandates that are still in effect. State health mandate #10, regarding interstate travel, is still in effect. It requires anyone entering Alaska from out of the state or country to quarantine for 14 days. Appendix one of that same mandate is also in effect, which requires enhanced protective measures for seafood processors. The state clarified that sports fishermen and those staying at lodges are not considered essential personnel and must quarantine upon arrival in Alaska.
State health mandate #18, which puts restrictions on intrastate travel, is also still in effect; however, communities that are connected by the road system or the Alaska Marine Highway System can travel freely.
The state health mandate that requires protective measures for fishermen, mandate #17, is also in effect. It now encourages captains to have their crew tested for COVID-19 before boarding the vessel.
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom reported at Friday’s COVID-19 update that the hospital has submitted 256 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19. She said that number amounts to about 6.9 percent of the total population. Of those test samples that have been submitted, 243 have returned negative, 10 are still pending and three have returned positive, though the three individuals have since recovered.
As businesses begin to operate under less restrictions, Bacom still encouraged the public to continue wearing face coverings. While someone may not be showing symptoms of COVID-19, that individual can still unknowingly be spreading the infection to others.
“Without broad testing, without good antibody testing that's really reliable, we’re never going to know what the prevalence of these folks is in our community or across the country,” said Bacom.
PMC has tested residents and staff in its Long Term Care facility for COVID-19, according to a press release from the Emergency Operations Center. Eleven residents and about 45 staff members were tested. The tests all returned back negative, though one test result is still pending. No one was showing symptoms of COVID-19 beforehand.
This Tuesday, Petersburg High School’s graduation ceremony will kick off with a parade through town and end with a graduation video at the ball field. Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said only seniors and their parents will be allowed to attend the screening of the video, but it will be made available to the rest of the public later that evening.
Canneries layout plan for bringing in outside workers
Representatives from Icicle Seafoods and Tridents Seafoods spoke at today’s COVID-19 community update to inform Petersburg residents of their plans on preventing the possible spread of the virus in town as both plants bring in outside workers for the summer’s fishing season.
Julianne Curry of Icicle Seafoods said the company is enforcing a closed campus for its employees that arrive in Petersburg as part of the summer season workforce. They will be quarantined in the Icicle Seafood bunkhouse for 14 days upon arrival in town before they are able to work. Those employees that are limited to the bunkhouse, cookhouse and cannery will have opportunities to purchase items they need in town through a designated employee who will shop for them. Curry said the company is looking into the possibility of taking workers into a retail store when no other customers are present to allow them to purchase what they need.
“We’re not anticipating a huge decline in local spending from the employees that we're bringing in,” said Curry.
Starting about two weeks ago, Curry said employees who are brought into Alaska from out of state are being tested for COVID-19 in Seattle and are only allowed to continue their journey if their test result returns negative.
Similar plans are in place at Trident Seafoods. Shannon Carroll, of Trident Seafoods, said they will also be operating on a closed campus this season, though those that already live in the community won’t be limited to the property.
When Trident Seafood employees arrive in Petersburg, they will be quarantined for 14 days at a local hotel. Those in quarantine will be monitored to make sure they are staying in place, and they will also require a negative COVID-19 test result to begin working.
Both representatives said the companies have been working on educating their workers to ensure they help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to each other and to the community.
“To us, a successful season is one where fishermen are able to fish, we’re able to process and everyone remains safe, including the greater Petersburg community,” said Carroll.
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman supported the two canneries’ plans for bringing workers into town and noted they both received input from the Emergency Operations Center.
Hagerman said residents can expect to see a change or an extension to state health mandate #10, which orders the self-quarantine of individuals arriving in Alaska from out of the state or country. The current iteration of the health mandate is in effect through May 19.
“That’s one of the best provisions that we have in the state to prevent spread, and hopefully, the state will recognize that and somewhat keep that going,” said Hagerman at the COVID-19 community update on Friday.
Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter said at the COVID-19 community update that the hospital has sent out 186 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19. Of those samples tested, 182 have returned back negative, one is still pending and three have returned positive, but the individuals have since recovered.
Hofstetter said the work session between borough officials and top state healthcare officials is confirmed to take place next Wednesday at 1:30 P.M. The work session was originally planned for this past Wednesday, but it was postponed until next week. The borough is expected to receive a status update on the state of COVID-19 in Alaska and what the borough can expect as it moves forward in reopening the local economy.
“We as a community need to know when we need to pull it back a little bit,” said Hofstetter. “It’s all fine and good if there’s no active cases, but if it hits all of a sudden, what is that criteria and how can we actually safely pull back on some of these things that are opening up.”
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said on Friday that the graduation parade that is taking place on Tuesday, May 26 will begin at 7 P.M. instead of 6 P.M. The exact route that the graduating seniors will follow will be released next week.
Kludt-Painter said that the district’s student meal program will continue into the summer, though it will look a little different than the current program and past summer food programs.
Next week, students will be wrapping up the academic side of the school year and the last week in May will be reserved for end-of-the-year housekeeping items, like returning materials and technology to the school, said Kludt-Painter.
Incident commander offers insight for essential businesses
While Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first two phases of his Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan gave out specific guidelines for non-essential businesses to follow when opening their doors, Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said the governor's plan hasn’t given much insight into how essential businesses should be operating moving forward.
“There’s a lot of detailed requirements for nonessential businesses, but there has been very little discussion on essential businesses,” said Hagerman at the Monday, May 11 community COVID-19 update.
On March 27, Dunleavy issued state health mandate #11, which required residents to shelter in place and practice social distancing. Hagerman said that mandate has since been superseded by the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan health mandate and its various attachments guiding nonessential businesses on how to operate as the state starts to reopen its economy.
While state health mandate #11 is no longer in place, Hagerman said that attachment A of the mandate is still in effect and should be used by essential businesses as a guideline in doing business. The document defines what an essential business is and what kind of health precautions employees and patrons must follow; however, the document was written before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the use of face coverings by the general public, said Hagerman.
Essential businesses aren’t mandated to have employees and customers wear face coverings, but business owners can require that they do.
“If they want their patrons and employees to wear a face covering and if so, they can absolutely refuse service to somebody who doesn't meet their requirements who isn’t wearing a face covering,” said Hagerman.
Local canneries are looking at a plan for bringing outside workers into the community, said Hagerman. When out of state cannery workers arrive in Seattle, they would be tested for COVID-19. Upon the return of a negative test result, they would then travel to Petersburg and be quarantined and potentially tested again. After it has been determined that the workers are healthy, they would then begin working, but they would be separated from the rest of the community. Hagerman said the reason for keeping the cannery workers segregated is to protect both the local population and the cannery workers from contracting the virus from each other.
Additionally at the COVID-19 community update, Hagerman said a work session that was to take place this Wednesday between borough officials and top state health officers has been postponed until next Wednesday due to Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink having a scheduling conflict.
At Monday’s COVID-19 community update, Petersburg Medical Center Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lauri Miller reported that PMC has collected 178 test samples to be submitted to state and commercial laboratories and tested for COVID-19. Of those tests submitted, 174 have returned negative, one is still pending and three have returned positive, but the three individuals have since recovered.
Miller said that the number of test samples pending has gone down due to the state and commercial labs being able to increase their turnaround rate as they are able to build up their capacity.
Locally, PMC has been testing individuals for COVID-19 with its two Abbott ID NOW machines. A positive case of the virus has not been detected by the testing machine.
PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter said the hospital has been working on its asymptomatic process of testing and evaluating the implementation of antibody testing. PMC is also looking at how it can safely begin conducting non-urgent care procedures and routine appointments.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael said that while COVID-19 can survive on clothing, someone is less likely to be infected by the virus through transmission on clothing than if the individual came into contact with droplets from someone infected with the virus or touched a hard surface with the virus living on it.
“It’s so early on that they can’t 100 percent guarantee that it can’t be transmitted via clothing,” said Michael.
Borough Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera reminded the public on Monday that they have until May 13 at 8 A.M. to submit banking information to the Internal Revenue Service to have their stimulus check deposited directly into their bank account. Otherwise, the individual will have to wait for a physical check to be mailed to them. Anyone who needs to submit their banking information to the IRS can do so at http://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.
Additionally, Cabrera said there is still about $120 billion available in the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses to keep their workers on payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A representative from the Petersburg School District was not present at Monday’s COVID-19 community update. Someone with the School district is expected to be at Wednesday’s COVID-19 community update, however.
Phase two of reopen plan takes effect
Phase two of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan took effect Friday, May 8, which changes previous restrictions in place for businesses to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic and sets guidelines for further businesses to open their doors again.
Of the original 11 attachments of the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan that guided specific business on how to safely begin doing business again, all but three have been updated. Additionally, under phase two of the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan, libraries, museums, archives, swimming pools, bars, theaters, bowling alleys and bingo halls are allowed to reopen given that they meet guidelines and restrictions specific to their business.
At the COVID-19 community update on Friday, Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said while the Petersburg Public Library and Parks and Recreation Center are still closed, staff is working on plans to possibly reopen those two facilities.
“The borough needs to answer the question of how we can do that and what it’s going to cost,” said Hagerman.
Businesses can also request that their customers follow stricter restrictions than what the state has outlined in the Reopen Responsibly Plan, said Hagerman. He encouraged the public to be respectful to businesses that are meeting the minimum standards mandated by the state or going above those standards for the protection of their employees and customers.
As fishermen around the state begin traveling through different communities in the upcoming fishing season, Hagerman suggested fishermen make contact with those communities they plan on traveling through beforehand. While the state’s health mandate regarding intrastate travel doesn’t require incoming individuals to quarantine for 14 days if they’re arriving from another Alaskan community, some of the smaller communities may have enacted tougher intrastate quarantine laws.
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom reported at the update on Friday that PMC has sent out 178 test samples from local residents to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19. She noted that the 178 number is just the amount of people that have been tested, and not the total number of tests, because someone may have been tested twice, but they are only being counted as a single test.
Of the 178 individual’s tested, 157 have tested negative for the virus, 18 results are still pending and three have tested positive for COVID-19, but they have since recovered.
Bacom said as seasonal and transient workers arrive in the state, those that test positive for COVID-19 will have their cases reported as being from their state of origin and not as an Alaskan case; although, the state will still keep track of those transient cases and make that information available to the public.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaskans between the ages of 20 and 60 make up the bulk of those who have been infected with COVID-19. Bacom said that more than half of those who have tested positive for the virus are between the ages of 20 and 60. The 60 to 69 age group makes up 14.6 percent of those who have tested positive, and those 70 years old and higher make up about 8 percent of Alaskans who have contracted COVID-19.
“We have a large number of people that are working out in the community and maybe not having good healthcare or good benefits to stay home and still get paid while they’re sick and that’s where the risk is,” said Bacom.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael reminded the public at the update to be sure to maintain their social distance, wear a face mask and practice proper hygiene when they visit loved ones this weekend for Mother’s Day. Michael also said the elderly and other vulnerable populations to COVID-19 should continue to distance themselves from the public as businesses reopen.
“Just because things are opening up, doesn't mean your risk as a vulnerable population person goes down,” said Michael on Friday. “I would encourage them to continue their current measures as much as possible if they can.”
Borough Community & Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera said on Friday that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is transferring $50 million in funding to Alaska for financial assistance to fisheries related businesses. Information on how to apply will be made available after a spending plan is created for the funding.
As of April, the unemployment rate is 14.7 percent nationwide, said Cabrera. The borough won’t know how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the local or state unemployment rate until later this month. The current unemployment rate for the state and borough only takes into account job losses through March, and Cabrera said a majority of job losses occurred in April.
The application deadline for the local Sales Tax Rebate Program and Paycheck Protection Program Loan Application Incentive Grant has been extended from May 8 to May 22, said Cabrera. The borough is broadening the application pool, so that it’s not just nonessential businesses that can apply for those two local assistance programs.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said the district has been solidifying plans for this year’s graduation ceremony. Petersburg High School seniors will be participating in a community parade in vehicles on May 26 between 6 P.M. and 7 P.M. A route that the students will follow has yet to be released. Additionally, a virtual baccalaureate service is going to be put together that same evening for the community to watch, said Kludt-Painter.
“There’s lots of creativity, and the kids are starting to get into it,” said Kludt-Painter.
Incident Commander not recommending renewal of masking mandate
On Monday, the Borough Assembly will vote whether or not to extend the local face covering health mandate past its May 5 expiration date, but at the COVID-19 community update on Friday, May 1, Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said he will not be recommending that the assembly extend it.
He said the mixed response that public health mandate #4 has received in the community led him to his decision. Additionally, the state has a health alert in place that encourages Alaskans to wear face coverings in some social circumstances.
“The message for the EOC is still going to be that face coverings are highly recommended as a way to prevent the spread of the virus to others,” said Hagerman on Friday. “The controversial nature of the mandate and the negative attention it’s received has really pushed me to take a different stance on that and essentially just try to encourage people to meet the health alert that’s been put out by the state and make good decisions on their own.”
The local face covering mandate requires all persons to wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth in certain social situations to help prevent the spread of droplets that could infect others with COVID-19. Ultimately, it will be up to the Borough Assembly to decide on whether to extend public health mandate #4 past May 5, or let it expire.
The Borough Assembly will also be considering an ordinance at their assembly meeting on Monday that would allow the municipal elections in the fall to be conducted by mail, with no precinct polling place open for regular in-person voting.
“Having a method in place ahead of time to handle the election sounds like a good idea to me,” said Hagerman. “A method that doesn't require close contact is even better.”
Petersburg Medical Center Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lauri Miller said the hospital has collected a total of 144 test samples to be sent to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19 as of Friday’s community COVID-19 update. Of those test samples collected, 119 have returned negative, 72 are still pending and three have returned positive, but all three cases have since recovered.
One of the three COVID-19 cases was contributed to travel, but the other two may have been infected locally, but PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said those two local cases aren’t related to each other. She said the fact that there hasn’t been any other confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community shows that social distancing, face masking and proper hygiene have been preventing the spread of the virus to others.
While there is a long list of symptoms associated with COVID-19, Bacom said individuals should be watching for symptoms they don’t experience regularly. If someone regularly experiences symptoms that are associated with the virus, maybe because the person has a medical condition, that person may not need to be tested. If a new symptom presents itself that the individual doesn’t experience normally, then they should call the PMC COVID-19 hotline, said Bacom.
There are processes in place for people who don’t have insurance to be tested for COVID-19 and see a physician, said Bacom. Additionally, anyone with insurance, Medicare or Medicaid will have their COVID-19 test and physician visit fully covered, and they won’t have to pay a copayment, said Bacom.
“I don’t want to see anybody have a barrier to getting tested,” said Bacom at Friday’s COVID-19 community update. “The whole idea is to test broadly, so we really know the extent.”
Alaska has released information for parents and guardians on what they should do if they get sick and can’t care for their children. The state recommends creating a circle of support with people that are not in a high risk group who can potentially help care for children, said Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael on Friday.
“It’s looking at planning ahead and trying to get prepared in case something does happen and you need your children to be taken care of because of illness,” said Michael.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter reminded the public that Friday, May 1 is School Lunch Hero and Principal Day. Additionally, next week is teacher and staff appreciation week.
“[It’s] just recognizing the hard work of all of our staff and what they’re doing to provide some sense of normalcy and education and support to our kids in the community,” said Kludt-Painter at the COVID-19 community update on Friday.
She also said the district has begun creating a rough outline for graduation later this month, though the district is still figuring out what it can and can’t do. Next week, School district officials will be having a meeting with students, parents and staff to finalize how the graduation ceremony will be held.
The School district has been in contact with state officials on what education in School districts around the state will look like in the fall. There are also plans underway for summer school, said Kludt-Painter.
Every May, a group Petersburg High School students survey the LeConte Glacier, but Kludt-Painter said that probably won’t happen this year.
“It’ll be the first time that it’s not happened,” said Kludt-Painter. “We can’t figure out a way to do it and meet all the guidances. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen.”
Third case of COVID-19 confirmed locally
A third case of COVID-19 in Petersburg was reported on Monday, April 27, according to a joint-statement made by Petersburg Medical Center and the Petersburg Borough.
PMC has sent a total of 115 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, according to PMC Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lauri Miller at Monday’s community COVID-19 update. Of those test samples, 98 have returned negative, 14 are still pending and three have returned positive, but two of the individuals have since recovered.
At Monday’s COVID-19 update, PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said until the state finishes its investigation, the hospital won’t know if the latest COVID-19 case was related to travel or if it was contracted in the community.
“We should just assume that [the virus] is in the community and proceed that way,” said Bacom.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced additional symptoms related to COVID-19, and Bacom said headache and loss of taste and smell are now definitively associated with the virus.
“The loss of taste and smell are something that has been seen, but not as a solo symptom until probably the last couple weeks,” said Bacom. “Really, it’s just a change in your symptoms that are typical for you, then it’s worth a call to the covid hotline.”
The number for PMC’s COVID-19 hotline is 772-5788.
Miller also said during Monday’s COVID-19 update that PMC isn’t looking into testing for COVID-19 antibodies at this time. She said the antibody tests require a blood draw and that nobody knows if the presence of antibodies offer any protection from a reinfection of the virus.
The Borough Assembly was expected to vote on public health mandate #7, which regards non-congregate sheltering, on Monday afternoon, but the special meeting was postponed until Tuesday due to technical difficulties with the virtual meeting. Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said the mandate is in response to state health mandate #14, which requires communities to make accommodations for healthcare workers and first responders who may have been exposed to the virus to quarantine or isolate themselves from their family to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the state health mandate also requires communities to make the same accommodations for the homeless population should they need a place to quarantine or isolate themselves from the rest of the community.
“If we were to have an outbreak next week among the homeless population, now we will have a plan for how to quarantine those folks and protect everyone else in Petersburg,” said Hagerman at Monday’s COVID-19 update.
While public health mandate #7 does have language giving the borough’s incident commander authority, with the concurrence of the borough health officer, to require someone to quarantine or isolate themselves, Hagerman said the borough would do so only in extreme circumstances.
“We have no intention, zero intention, of forcing people to do this unless an absolutely egregious case,” said Hagerman. “Somebody highly symptomatic that’s shedding virus dramatically and is refusing to isolate. That would be the last resort.”
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said on Monday that families have been regularly asking the district about this year’s senior graduation and what the next school year will look like. Kludt-Painter said she is still working through the guidance that School districts have received from the state about what is and is not allowed at senior graduation ceremonies. She also said the district is still unsure of what learning will look like at the district when the new school year starts in the fall, though there have been some creative planning and discussions.
Additionally, technology that has been distributed to students for the use of distance learning will be returned to the district at the end of the school year so the software can be updated and maintained.
Second local case of COVID-19 recovered
Petersburg’s second local case of COVID-19 has recovered, bringing the community’s total active cases of the virus down to zero, according to Petersburg Medical Center Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lauri Miller at the daily COVID-19 community update on Friday, April 24.
PMC has sent out 107 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19. Out of those test samples, 88 have returned negative, 17 are still pending and two have returned positive, but both individuals have since recovered.
“The high number of negatives we have indicate that the masking and the social distancing is working,” said Miller.
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner said when someone calls PMC’s COVID-19 hotline, a nurse will take down a history of the individual’s symptoms and give the list to a physician, who will then determine if the person should be tested. In the past, only those with a fever and a few select symptoms were being tested for the virus, but as the list of symptoms associated with COVID-19 has increased, more people have begun being tested. PMC is not collecting a test sample from anyone who is not showing any symptoms, unless the person is coming into the hospital for a non-urgent medical procedure or is an inpatient, said Bryner. Additionally, hospital staff aren’t being tested unless they show the smallest sign of a COVID-19 symptom, said Bryner.
She also reminded the public that they should not be ingesting or injecting a disinfecting cleaner as a way to battle the virus.
“They are to clean surfaces and not your body,” said Bryner.
If anyone in the community is using gloves as a way to prevent them from directly touching a surface that may have COVID-19 on it, PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said the gloves should only be worn once and not throughout different stages of an activity. She noted that someone who is attending a hotdog stand and is using the same pair of gloves to handle both food and money has rendered the gloves useless as a way to keep food sanitary.
“Those gloves absolutely do no good anymore,” said Bacom at Friday’s daily COVID-19 community update. “They're just like using a dirty knife that cut raw chicken on raw vegetables that are going to go in your salad. They are going to cross contaminate.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy released state health mandate #16, which details phase one of his Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan. The health mandate lists non-essential businesses that can reopen their doors and gives requirements that must be met by those businesses. Since then, he has released additional attachments to the health mandate that regard childcare and day camps, fishing charters, gyms and fitness centers, lodging and overnight camping, intrastate travel and outdoor day activities.
The original version of state health mandate #16 included language preempting any local mandates, but with the addition of the new attachments, that language has been removed.
Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said during Friday’s daily COVID-19 update that the borough is trying to determine what authority it might now have in reopening its economy. He said some reports have suggested that communities would be able to determine how fast or slow they reopen their own economies, though the governor's office hasn’t released any official guidance in writing.
“For the time being, my advice for the assembly is to not make any actions at this point and go by the states mandates and attachments until we get a clear sense of what is allowed and not allowed for Petersburg do to,” said Hagerman.
The Petersburg Borough’s Emergency Operations Center has put together a website that places local and state COVID-19 information all in one place. The website is easy to navigate and straight forward. Anyone can visit the website at http://www.psgcovidinfo.net
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said districts throughout the state have received some guidance on how they can hold graduation ceremonies later this year. That guidance includes how many people can be in one location at a time and what can happen in a facility or outside. Kludt-Painter said the state’s input has left the district with more questions than answers, but she will be able to work through those questions with Alaska Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum on Monday.
In an email to parents, Rae C. Stedman Elementary School Principal Heather Conn listed upcoming events and notable dates. The district’s book mobile went out for the second time this Friday, and Conn explained how students and parents can request a book, which are delivered every Friday.
The elementary school has also started a homework busters program online for students that are in need of help. Additionally, Elementary School Counselor Rachel Etcher has a monthly newsletter that helps students of all grade levels on social emotional skills.
Governor announces plan to reopen economy
Petersburg Medical Center Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Laurie Miller reported 102 test samples have been sent to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19 at the daily COVID-19 community update on Thursday, April 23. Of those test samples, 84 have returned negative, 16 are still pending and two have returned positive, but one individual has since recovered.
Wednesday evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy released state health mandate #16, which details phase one of his Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan. The health mandate lists non-essential businesses that can reopen their doors and gives requirements that must be met by those businesses. Requirements business owners must meet include social distancing requirements, hygiene protocols, staffing considerations and disinfecting regimens, said Incident Commander Karl Hagerman.
“I really encourage any nonessential business that has been closed down and would like to reopen to go read the mandate for themselves,” said Hagerman at Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update.
Hagerman said any business owners who have questions regarding the reopening of their business can email the Emergency Operations Center at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.
He also reminded the public that the borough’s face covering mandate is still in effect.
While some business owners are eager to reopen, Hagerman said others are not interested in reopening their business immediately due to worry over COVID-19.
“I keep coming back to the reason we’re in this in the first place, which is a medical reason,” said Hagerman. “The threat of the virus taking hold in Petersburg and quickly overwhelming our healthcare system is still real.”
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner said she has begun offering guidelines to business owners on how they can screen their employees for COVID-19 and how they can help stop or slow the spread of the virus. She said the screenings make sure employees are healthy and not showing any symptoms of COVID-19.
“I would recommend that if you are opening your business and are going to have people coming in and will have other coworkers around, that you consider screening for symptoms and potentially temperatures as well,” said Bryner on Thursday.
At the Petersburg School District, Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said staff has been focused on communication and support with students and parents as distance learning continues into its fifth week. Additionally, there haven’t been any definitive plans for how learning at the three schools will look when the new school year begins in the fall, said Kludt-Painter.
Another COVID-19 case confirmed in Petersburg
The Petersburg Borough confirmed the second positive test result for COVID-19 in the community on Saturday, according to a joint statement made by the borough and Petersburg Medical Center. The first individual who tested positive for the virus has since recovered, and another local resident, Delbert (Pete) Erickson, passed away from the virus in Washington last month.
As of Monday, PMC has sent out 81 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, according to PMC Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Laurie Miller. Of those 81 tested, 74 have returned negative, five are still pending and two have returned positive. One individual who has tested positive for the virus has since recovered, while the second confirmed case is still active.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Section of Epidemiology has limited information on the active case of COVID-19 in the community, said Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael at the daily COVID-19 update on Monday, April 20. Michael said with the information that is available, there is no indication that the individual contracted the virus while traveling or from a secondary case, such as a household member who was infected with COVID-19. Because contact investigators aren’t sure how the virus was transmitted to the individual, they’re leaning towards the idea that the virus was transmitted in the community somewhere, said Michael.
The individual may have gotten exposed to COVID-19 from someone who had the virus, but was asymptomatic and were undiagnosed, said Michael.
“This is our first case where we have an unknown,” said Michael. “We’ll find out more as we go along.”
Because the active case of COVID-19 may have been transmitted from someone who was not showing symptoms of the virus, healthcare professions reminded the public about the importance of wearing a face mask or covering. PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter said on Monday that since Petersburg is a small community on an island, the public has a better chance of preventing the spread of the virus than a larger community.
“We can do a lot of good,” said Hofstetter. “We have a unique opportunity to tackle this thing ... There should be no reason why we couldn’t do things better than a big city.”
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner said transmission of COVID-19 can occur when droplets leave someone’s mouth or nose and land on a surface that is touched by someone else, who then touches their own face. By wearing a mask, someone who has COVID-19, but is unaware of it, can prevent the accidental spread of the virus.
“If you assume you have it and that other people have it and you act accordingly, then we really drive down the risk of transmission between people when they don't have serious symptoms,” said Bryner.
PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said some residents have been wearing rubber gloves with the idea that they’re going to be protected from the virus. She cautioned the public to not wear the same pair of gloves all day, because it is the same as not washing their hands.
Tonight, the Borough Assembly will be reviewing three health mandates at their meeting regarding face masks, essential personnel arriving in Petersburg and harbor facilities. The borough has already received letters both in favor and against the ordinances, and they’ll be a part of the public record. Incident Commander Karl Hagerman informed the public at the daily COVID-19 update on Monday that they can call into the virtual meeting tonight at 6 P.M. and give an oral statement to the assembly. The number to call is 1-800-954-0633.
Community and Economic Development Director Liz Cabrera also gave an update on Monday on state and federal programs in place to help residents and small businesses who have been affected financially by COVID-19. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allocated money for stimulus checks for most Americans, but while those who receive their tax return checks via direct deposit have already had the check wired to their bank accounts, physical paper checks will be arriving in the coming weeks.
Cabrera said anyone who receives veteran benefits or doesn’t file their taxes because their incomes don’t require that they do, need to provide their information to the Internal Revenue Service to receive the stimulus checks. For the time being, that information can only be provided online, according to Cabrera.
The Paycheck Protection Loan and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs ran out of funding last week, but Cabrera said Congress is close to approving more funding for those programs. She said there are thousands of applications that have been submitted to the Small Business Administration that are waiting to receive funding. She encouraged anyone who needs to apply for those loan programs to begin getting the proper documentation together so they can apply.
“I fear we’ll be seeing a repeat of what just happened, which is a lot of applications coming through very quickly and that money being drawn down very quickly,” said Cabrera.
The PPL and EIDL programs can be applied for at state and local banks. Anyone with questions regarding benefits for small businesses can call the Alaska Small Business Development Center at 907-463-3440.
Alaska has approved unemployment benefits for self-employed residents, but anyone interested in applying for those benefits must first apply for regular unemployment benefits and be rejected. Cabrera said it’s going to take the state some time to begin offering unemployment benefits for self-employed residents. Anyone who wants to apply for unemployment benefits, but does not have access to the internet, can call 1-888-252-2557.
At the Petersburg School District, Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said Petersburg High School and Mitkof Middle School Principal Rick Dormer and Activities Director Jaime Cabral will be holding office hours this week to virtually meet with parents who have questions or comments regarding distance learning or anything happening at the School district. Anyone interested in meeting with Dormer and Cabral can contact them or the School district to receive the link and password to the virtual meeting.
Borough, healthcare officials support face covering mandate
The Borough Assembly will consider three new local health mandates at their meeting on Monday, and one health mandate regarding face coverings has already received feedback from the community, said Incident Director Karl Hagerman at the daily COVID-19 update on Friday, April 17.
If adopted, the face covering health mandate would require all persons to wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth in certain social situations, according to the drafted public health mandate. A face covering does not have to be a medical face mask, but includes homemade face masks, scarves, bandanas and handkerchiefs. Under the health mandate, a face covering would have to be worn when entering a building open or closed to the public when present for work purposes and in the company of coworkers, according to drafted public health mandate. Additionally, a face covering would have to be worn outside in situations where social distancing requirements with non-household individuals cannot be met.
If passed, the public health mandate would be in effect until May 5, but the mandate can be extended or terminated earlier.
The public health mandate builds on state health alert #10, which only recommends Alaskans wear a face covering in public.
“It would be great if everybody would just adhere to the health alert that's in place from the state right now, but there's still a number of people that are not getting it,” said Hagerman. “We’re just trying to help those people make good decisions.”
Hagerman also gave a list of scenarios where a face covering would be required to be worn by the public should the public health mandate be approved by the assembly. A face covering would be required if: Someone goes into an open business that has enough people in it that social distancing can’t be practiced; someone works at an essential business that services people all day; and if someone is traveling in a car with individuals who aren’t a part of the same household.
Those walking on the dock should have a face mask ready in case they pass someone as they’re walking by, said Hagerman.
He also gave a list of scenarios where an individual would not have to wear a face covering, such as working in a closed office alone, walking outside with members of their household and traveling in a car with members of their household.
“This does not say that people should wear facial coverings all the time, everywhere,” said Hagerman. “We’re really trying to get our population to protect each other from themselves with a little bit of respect and kindness.”
Petersburg Medical Center Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom said someone can have COVID-19 and not be sick. Some populations, like children, can carry the virus, not get sick and transfer it over to others, Bacom said. By wearing a face mask or covering, someone who has COVID-19, but is unaware of it because they aren’t showing any symptoms, can prevent themselves from inadvertently releasing droplets into their surroundings.
She also said the New England Journal of Medicine wrote that if someone with COVID-19 coughs in a poorly ventilated area, someone else an hour later can walk into that cloud of droplets and become infected.
“This is not something to play around with,” said Bacom. “We want to take care of our community every way possible and [face coverings are] a simple way to do it.”
As of Friday, PMC has submitted 76 test samples to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, according to PMC Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Laurie Miller at Friday’s daily COVID-19 update. Of the 76 test samples, 67 have returned negative, eight are still pending and one has returned positive, but the individual has since recovered.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter on Friday said the School district is still looking for feedback from families as the third week of distance learning comes to an end. She said the district will be doing some outreach to families through phone calls in the coming week.
The School district is also offering information for families on their new role as teachers while schools around the state continue to be closed for the rest of the school year. In an email to families, Rae C. Stedman Elementary School Principal Heather Conn recommended resources parents can use to help their children learn from home, including a free parenting course that utilizes love and logic.
The elementary school is also doing weekly reading challenges organized through the Stedman Partners in Education Facebook page. Families can use the district book mobile to receive new books each Friday at various locations around town which coincide with the district’s meal drop off points. Books should be requested by Wednesday on the school district’s website to receive them that Friday.
Hospitals statewide to resume non-urgent services
Since Wednesday, three more local residents have been tested for COVID-19 bringing the total number tested to 74, according to Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter at the daily COVID-19 community update on Thursday, April 16. Of the 74 test samples submitted to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, 67 have returned negative, six are still pending and one has returned positive but the individual has since recovered.
On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy released health mandate #15. It allows health care facilities and providers to resume some non-urgent and non-emergency services in phases over the coming weeks. All non-urgent and non-emergency services were previously postponed by health mandates #5 and #6 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Since the governor’s 15th health mandate was released, Hofstetter said the hospital has been trying to determine how it can safely resume providing those services.
“As I've said many times, the most at risk for Coronavirus are healthcare workers and so I have quite a bit of concern on this mandate specifically and how we’re going to be able to meet the need of that,” said Hofstetter.
Additionally, Hofstetter said because much is still unknown about COVID-19 that he couldn't make a recommendation on whether or not someone who has recovered from the virus should move more freely in the community due to the antibodies present in their body.
PMC Director of Nursing Jennifer Bryner said those who have recovered from COVID-19 should continue to take the same precautions as those who haven’t been infected.
On Monday, the Borough Assembly will consider three new health mandates regarding face masks, essential personnel arriving in Petersburg and harbor facilities, but some members of the community feel the borough is overstepping its reach by implementing health mandates without public approval. Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said there are plenty of citizens who support the mandates and want the borough to create further restrictions.
“Those assembly members are elected and represent our population and that’s what they're doing when they're considering these mandates and consider passing them or not,” said Hagerman at Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update.
In a teleconference with the Alaska Municipal League Thursday morning, Hagerman said Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum spoke about an upcoming state health mandate that targets fishing vessels. Hagerman said the state wants to help individual fishing vessels come up with a plan for the upcoming fishing season on what precautions need to be taken while in the fishing grounds to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said the School district is going to receive some guidance from the state on how it can host a graduation ceremony for the high school seniors. At Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 update, Petersburg High School Principal Rick Dormer said the high school was also working with student groups to come up with ideas on how end of the year school activities can still happen.
“Clearly we’re not the only School district trying to figure out how to work this around in the best possible way to honor all of our seniors and to honor the mandates and be as safe as possible,” said Kludt-Painter at Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update.
COVID-19 testing capabilities expected soon locally
Sixty-six test samples from local residents have been sent to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, according to Petersburg Medical Center’s Laurie Miller at the daily COVID-19 update on April 13. Of the 66 samples, 60 have returned negative, five are still pending and one test was returned positive, but the individual has since recovered, according to Miller.
PMC will be receiving two Abbott ID Now machines from the Strategic National Stockpile, and Miller said she anticipates their arrival any day now. The machines will allow PMC to test for COVID-19 onsite.
“We are just waiting for the machines to get here so we can start the validation process to make sure that the results we give the physicians are accurate,” said Miller.
Public Health Nurse Erin Michael said the state uses several parameters to determine when someone has recovered from COVID-19. She said it all depends on when the individual first started having symptoms, when the symptoms stopped and how many days have passed since the individual last experienced any symptoms.
Last Friday, the state made some amendments to state health mandate #11 and state health mandate #12, which address social distancing and intrastate travel respectively. The Petersburg Borough has been holding out hope that the 12th state health mandate would be amended to increase the population threshold that defines a small community. The mandate allows for a community of less than 3,000 citizens to adopt stricter travel restrictions. The borough had been wanting to mandate anyone arriving in town from another Alaskan community to self-quarantine for 14 days, which isn’t required in the state health mandate.
“I was excited to see some changes, but they weren’t good news for Petersburg tightening things down,” said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at the daily COVID-19 community update on Monday.
The amendments to state health mandate #12 reaffirmed the small community population threshold, said Hagerman. The borough's Incident Command Team may suggest additional health mandates to the Borough Assembly to further protect the community, said Hagerman.
The City of Craig confirmed two cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon and with local residents fishing at the herring fishery near Craig, Hagerman said the borough is concerned about the fishermen coming back to town; however, Craig has been taking their own precautions.
“I believe most of the boats were effectively quarantined, and it shouldn't be a problem for them coming back into the community,” said Hagerman.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said on Monday that iPads have been going out to kindergarteners, first graders and second graders to be used for distance learning. The district may start rolling out some virtual lessons for parents on how to help their students with the devices.
“If parents are having questions, or issues or concerns, we want to give them some access to people like they would have in a school building,” said Kludt-Painter.
The Petersburg School Board will be holding a virtual school board meeting tomorrow, April 14. Anyone who wants to address the board can contact Kludt-Painter or Administrative Assistant Irene Littleton for details.
First case of COVID-19 in town has recovered
Petersburg Medical Center has sent out 62 test samples to be tested for COVID-19 at state and commercial laboratories, according to PMC’s Jennifer Bryner at the daily COVID-19 community update on Friday, April 10. Of the 62 tests, 53 have come back negative, eight are still pending and one has come back positive, but that positive case has since recovered, according to Bryner.
She said that PMC has started building an alternate care site at the Petersburg School District gym to act as an overflow hospital ward for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, should PMC run out of room to care for them, said Bryner. When the hospital gets its Abbott ID NOW machine, which can be used to test for COVID-19, PMC would have a limited amount of test cartridges to run through the machine. Some of those would need to be used for quality assurance and validation testing, but Bryner said the hospital would still have plenty of test cartridges to be able to test the public. She is hopeful the hospital will get refill tests periodically in the future.
PMC will still have the option to use state and commercial laboratories to test for COVID-19, said Bryner.
Anyone who is waiting on the results of their COVID-19 test should be in quarantine until it is confirmed they don’t have the disease; however, if they are still experiencing symptoms, they should continue to stay home, said Bryner. Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom noted that if the symptoms don’t go away, then the individual may need to be tested again, because they might have been tested too early in the infection.
Additionally, Bryner reminded the public to practice good hygiene to prevent transmitting or contracting COVID-19 and to wear a mask when in public.
“When I wear a mask, it’s not to protect me, it’s to protect those who I come in contact with,” said Bryner. “Every time you see somebody wearing a mask, they are doing that for you.”
Petersburg Public Nurse Erin Michael said at the daily COVID-19 update that the state of Alaska released new guidelines to practice while engaging in physical activity outside. Those who are singing, running, hiking, biking or doing any other physical activity where they’re exerting themselves, should be wearing a face mask and not be within 20 feet of anybody else, said Michael.
She also warned the public to be cautious of what they put in their homemade face masks for further filtration, because fine particles can be inhaled inadvertently.
“You don't want to try to help yourself and wind up harming yourself,” said Michael.
On Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy extended health mandate #11, which covers social distancing and health mandate #12 regarding intrastate travel. No changes were made to the mandates, but they were extended by 10 days. Both mandates went into effect on March 28 and were to be reevaluated by April 11.
The state’s 12th health mandate, which limits intrastate travel, doesn’t require anyone arriving in one Alaskan community from another to self-quarantine for 14 days. The mandate does allow for communities with a population of less than 3,000 citizens to adopt stricter travel restrictions. The Petersburg Borough has been trying to get the state to raise the threshold of what is considered a small community.
Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said at the daily COVID-19 update that he was hopefully the reason the mandates were extended by 10 days was to change the language in health mandate #12 on what qualifies as a small community. Hagerman said other communities also wanted to see the 3,000 small community threshold increased.
Dunleavy also enacted health mandate #13, which extends the closure of K-12 public and private schools from May 1 through the end of the school year. PSD Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said the mandate just closes physical school locations and that virtual school would continue.
“We are continuing with our distance plan as we have been rolling it out,” said Kludt-Painter.
On Tuesday, the Petersburg School Board will be holding a school board meeting virtually, but members of the public who want to address the board can call in to do so.
PMC to test for COVID-19 locally
The testing machine has a turnaround time of about 20 minutes a test, according to Petersburg Medical Center’s Laurie Miller at the daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, March 9. She said the hospital hasn’t received any of the machines yet, but they will also need to be calibrated upon their arrival.
“Until we get the machines here, there’s not much we can do but be excited,” said Miller.
At the daily COVID-19 update, Miller also corrected the number of specimens that have been shipped out to be tested for COVID-19. On Wednesday, PMC reported that 62 test samples have been sent to state and commercial laboratories for testing, but Miller said there was a miscommunication while tallying up the samples. As of Thursday, PMC has sent out a total of 56 samples, said Miller. Forty-eight have come back negative, one was positive and seven are still pending.
PMC Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Bryner said on Thursday that the state has changed their guidelines on who should be tested for COVID-19, since more information has been learned about the virus. The list of symptoms related to COVID-19 now, include coughing, shortness of breath, muscle or joint pain, nausea, diarrhea, runny nose, headaches, the chills, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, shaking, sore throat and a fever that can be measured with a thermometer or just by touch.
If anyone is experiencing at least two of those symptoms, they should call the PMC’s COVID-19 hotline at 772-5788, said Bryner. If anyone can’t get through to someone on the COVID-19 hotline, they should call the hospital directly at 772-4291.
Incident Commander Karl Hagerman asked the community at the daily COVID-19 update on Thursday to show respect for one another as the public moves forward after the first case of the virus was confirmed in town. He also said the borough has been trying to come up with accommodations for the homeless population who need to isolate themselves should they contract COVID-19.
The borough is still working on removing glitches from its Code Red alert system after some individuals failed to receive an alert on Sunday informing them of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in town, said Hagerman. Fire and EMS Director Sandy Dixson has been in contact with the company that made the Code Red system to resolve the issue.
Students at the Petersburg School District have been trying to make the best out of a bad situation by staying positive and coming up with creative ways to have fun, said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter on Thursday. Rae C. Stedman Elementary School has started a reading challenge and students have been participating in spirit week. Mitkof Middle School and Petersburg High School Principal Rick Dormer said the secondary schools will be having spirit week next week as well.
“The kids are just doing pretty darn well, and they've been amazingly resilient during this whole situation,” said Kludt-Painter.
She also said the School district will begin its “book mobile” program next week.
COVID-19 confirmed in Petersburg
The Petersburg Borough announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the borough on Sunday.
According to a joint statement made by the borough and Petersburg Medical Center, the individual who tested positive for the virus returned to Petersburg in mid-March after having traveled in the lower 48. Upon their return to town, the individual has been in self-quarantine and was showing mild symptoms when testing was done at a commercial laboratory in late-March, according to the statement. The individual continues to follow isolation guidelines and is improving, according to the statement.
“This issue is not going to go away in a few weeks, it’s going to be around for months,” said Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman at Monday’s assembly meeting. “We don't know when it will end. Everybody needs to have a high level of patience with each other and the situation we’re in. The better we do, the better off we’ll be.”
PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter told the Borough Assembly at their meeting on Monday that 46 samples have been sent out to be tested for COVID-19. Forty have returned negative, one has returned positive and the results of five tests are still pending, said Hofstetter.
As of Monday afternoon, there were 191 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Twenty-three patients have been hospitalized and 24 patients have recovered, according to DHSS. Six Alaskans have died due to COVID-19, according to DHSS.
While turnaround rates for test results have been lowering, Hofstetter said the hospital is still struggling to get immediate results. He said PMC has the equipment to test for COVID-19 in-house, but the hospital lacks the cartridges that are required to do the testing.
Hofstetter also said the hospital will be creating an emotional support hotline for residents this week to talk to someone about how they’re feeling as COVID-19 has finally been confirmed in Petersburg.
“There’s a lot of anxiety,” said Hofstetter. “There’s a lot of questions, and we want to make sure we can provide a number for access and talk to a professional as well.”
PMC has made preparations for a medical surge should a patient with COVID-19 need to be admitted into the hospital, said Hofstetter.
Monday’s daily COVID-19 update with city and medical officials was cancelled due to the Borough Assembly meeting taking place at the same time, but the daily update will continue tomorrow on March 7.
PMC offers proper face mask etiquette
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends the public to wear face masks even if they haven’t been confirmed to have COVID-19, Petersburg Medical Center had some tips for residents on how to properly wear and remove a mask at the daily COVID-19 update on Friday, April 3.
“Three weeks ago, things were different in this country than they are now,” said PMC Infection Prevention and Quality Manager Liz Bacom.
PMC also updated the number of COVID-19 test specimens it has sent out for testing. As of Friday, 44 tests have been submitted to state and commercial laboratories, according to PMC’s Laurie Miller. Thirty-three tests have come back negative, and the remaining 11 tests are still pending. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 157 confirmed cases of the virus in the state as of Friday.
By wearing a face mask, an individual is preventing the spread of the disease should they have it, but are unaware of it yet.
PMC Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Bryner said it’s important people have clean hands when they first put the mask on, which should be properly covering the nose, mouth and chin. Anyone wearing a face mask should wash their hands anytime they touch it to prevent from spreading the virus to other surfaces, said Bryner.
Individuals should also always have the same side of the mask touching their face each time they put it on. If the mask needs to be removed temporarily, it should be removed by the straps and placed on a dry paper towel, said Bryner. Once the mask is back on the individual’s face, the paper towel should be disposed of and the surface it sat on cleaned. The mask should not be put in a plastic bag between use. A face mask should not be worn for multiple days in a row without washing it each day. Bryner said fabric face masks should be washed in hot water and dried in high heat. Masks that haven’t been washed yet should be stored in paper bags.
If someone is wearing a mask, they should still maintain their social distance from other people.
“It’s an added precaution,” said Bryner. “It’s to prevent any droplet particles that may come out of your mouth during talking, laughing, coughing, from hitting something that somebody can touch and then touch their eye or their mouth or their nose with.”
At a previous COVID-19 update, Bryner said an individual with COVID-19 can sign an advanced directive that says they don’t want to be intubated or ventilated. Bryner said Friday that the individual would still be provided comfort and pain relief.
On Thursday, April 2, DHSS changed the layout of its website it uses to report confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state; as a result, DHSS had counted a local resident who contacted the virus in Washington state and later passed away due to the disease as Petersburg having one confirmed case of COVID-19.
Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said at Friday’s daily COVID-19 update that several people had seen the updated website and were concerned that a confirmed case of the virus was in the community. He forwarded the information to PMC and the local public health office who confirmed that COVID-19 was not in Petersburg.
“People in Petersburg are watching closely and several people did see that number was updated, and the concern started to grow,” said Hagerman.
While the borough waits for the state to begin passing out and collecting travel declaration forms at the Petersburg Airport, EMS volunteers have taken that duty upon themselves. Hagerman said by signing the forms, which were mandated in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s 10th health mandate, anyone arriving in Petersburg from outside of the state or country vow to self-quarantine for 14 days. Anyone who violates the self-quarantine can be convicted of a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, according to state health mandate #10.
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter told the community at the daily COVID-19 update on Friday that the district would be distributing electronic devices to Rae C. Stedman Elementary School students early next week to be used for distance learning. Kindergarteners, first graders and second graders will be given iPads, and the upper graders would be given Chromebook laptops.
Kludt-Painter also said that the district is looking to provide access to its library through the use of a “book mobile.”
“We may have a drop off plan as early as next Friday,” said Kludt-Painter. “We’re seeing a lot of innovation coming out.”
Hospital requires all employees to wear masks
Local COVID-19 test samples sent to laboratories have reached over 40, as 31 tests have come back negative for the virus, and the remaining 10 are still pending, according to Petersburg Medical Center’s Laurie Miller at the daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, April 2.
Statewide, there have been 147 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of noon on Thursday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Thirteen Alaskans have been hospitalized and three have died due COVID-19, according to ADHSS.
On Thursday, PMC instituted a mandatory masking protocol within the facility for all employees. Even though a staff member may not have been confirmed to have COVID-19, the face mask would prevent them from spreading the disease to others in the hospital should they have the virus and not realize it yet.
“There’s a higher introduction of prevention of transmission by assuming people are infected already,” said PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter.
PMC’s Jennifer Bryner warned the public that a mask isn’t going to prevent them from transmitting the virus if they touch their mask and then touch other surfaces. The purpose of the mask is to prevent droplets from being expelled from the mouth and into the environment, said Bryner.
Incident Commander Karl Hagerman reported at the COVID-19 daily update on Thursday that the borough is still waiting on feedback from the state on how it plans on distributing and collecting travel declaration forms from passengers arriving in town by plane. State health mandate 10 requires anyone arriving in an Alaskan community by plane from out of state or out of the country to fill out a travel declaration form. Hagerman said Fire and EMS Director Sandy Dixson has gathered some EMS volunteers together who are willing to meet planes arriving in town to hand out the forms and collect them. The forms will then be given to Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael to be sent to the state.
“For now, it seems we have a solution until the state gets their plan together,” said Hagerman.
He also reminded the public that the borough is encouraging anyone who visits the Petersburg Post Office to practice social distancing and proper hygiene. He said the borough recommends anyone with an odd post office box number to only visit the post office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Anyone with an even post office box number can get their mail on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Residents should try to designate one person among a group of people to visit the post office and retrieve the entire group’s mail at once, said Hagerman.
On March 27, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued health mandate #12, which limits intrastate travel. An attachment to the amendment allows communities of less than 3,000 residents to adopt stricter travel restrictions. Hagerman said the borough is probably going to request that the state increase that 3,000 threshold so the Petersburg Borough can enact travel restrictions that are tougher than the state’s restrictions. The governor's 12th health mandate does not require people traveling between Alaska communities to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in another community.
“That is an issue that is not very well accepted by [the borough] and the hospital staff,” said Hagerman. “We would like the opportunity to require quarantine for intrastate travel.”
During Thursday’s daily COVID-19 update, Petersburg School District Erica Kludt-Painter said the district is close to handing out devices to Rae C. Stedman Elementary School students to be used for distance learning. She hopes to have the devices ready to be distributed next week.
The School district is also working on providing wireless internet access points around the exterior of each of the school buildings, said Kludt-Painter. The access points would allow students who may not be able to connect to the internet for distance learning at home to be able to get online on school grounds.
“That will offer some opportunities, almost like a drive-by, drive-through, drive-up, for students that need it,” said Kludt-Painter.
State, local officials to be informed when COVID-19 affects town
Sixteen local COVID-19 test samples have returned negative, but Petersburg Medical Center is still waiting for the results of 19 additional samples, said PMC’s Liz Bacom at the daily COVID-19 update on Monday, March 30.
“That means we’re doing a pretty good job, but that means more than ever we’re monitoring our social distancing and quarantining ourselves if we’re traveling,” said PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter.
As of Sunday evening, there have been 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Alaska, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. Eighteen of the cases have been confirmed to be in Southeast Alaska, with 13 cases in Ketchikan and five cases in Juneau. According to DHSS, three Alaskans have died and seven have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.
Hofstetter said PMC is making preparations to admit the first COVID-19 patient into the hospital, should a case be confirmed in Petersburg. PMC is planning ahead to make sure the hospital staff has enough personal protection equipment and knows how to properly take it off to prevent infecting themselves or their surrounding area with the virus.
“Despite the negatives that we’re receiving, we do anticipate a positive, not just a positive, but a positive admission,” said Hofstetter of local COVID-19 test results.
Once the first case of COVID-19 is confirmed in town, Bacom said several entities will be informed. First, a physician or a registered nurse will make contact with the patient to let them know the results of the test and the next steps to follow in terms of care. The borough is also ready to announce to the public that COVID-19 has been confirmed in the town. One form that the announcement will take is a code red emergency alert. Anyone can sign up for the free service on the borough's website to receive breaking emergency alerts.
A confirmed case of COVID-19 will also be reported to the epidemiology division of DHSS. The state will then do an epidemiological search on the case and investigate the individual’s travel history and who the person has come into contact with since returning, according to Bacom. If the individual has not traveled recently, the state will investigate who the individual has recently come into contact with.
“The state epidemiology department does that search,” said Bacom. “The hospital does not do those types of interrogations.”
Additionally, the state will inform anyone it believes may have come into close contact with the individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Bacom.
On Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued two more health mandates, and Borough Incident Commander Karl Hagerman said at Monday’s daily update that the borough has been trying to determine how those two mandates affect Petersburg.
One mandate orders Alaskans to follow social distancing protocols, and the other issues an intrastate travel ban that limits travel between communities around the state. Hagerman said the state’s social distancing mandate is similar to the one the borough passed last week. He also said the borough is trying to determine if the borough can implement stricter guidelines than the state. Language in the state’s travel mandate allows communities of less than 3,000 people the ability to enact stricter travel bans, but Petersburg has more than 3,000 residents, according to Hagerman.
Even with current state and local health mandates, Hagerman said social distancing is going to be key in preventing a large-scale local COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re not looking at a two week period to change habits and get back to normal,” said Hagerman. “This is going to be a longer period of time. People really are going to have to focus on changing the way they do things and look at things to maintain a separation.”
Monday was the first day back for Petersburg School District students, following a two week spring break, but Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter is calling it a “soft” reopening of classes. Petersburg High School and Mitkof Middle School students have begun checking into their classes through distance learning, while Rae C. Stedman Elementary School has opened communication between families and teachers.
“Again, [I’m] just reminding everyone to take deep breaths,” said Kludt-Painter. “We are going to slowly make our way through this and work through the glitches and the issues.”
Anyone with questions or concerns about distance learning, district meal drop offs or students’ belongings that are still at school can contact the School district for help.
Sen. Murkowski addresses COVID-19 stimulus package
Today, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis in the country. Sen. Lisa Murkowski highlighted key areas of the package for Petersburg during the daily COVID-19 update on March 27.
“It’s all hands on deck,” said Murkowski. “It’s not only the health crisis, but it’s the economic impact that we see already and that we know more is to come as we see the impact to our tourism sector, the impact to our fisheries sector when the market is down.”
One key aspect of the stimulus package is a stimulus check that will go to nearly every adult with a social security number as long as they aren’t a dependent, said Murkowski. The one-time payout will total $1,200 for most citizens, while trickling down in size for those who make more than $75,000 a year or for a couple with a combined income of $150,000 annually. Murkowski said the checks are expected to be mailed or deposited into bank accounts by April 6, but that date is a bit ambitious.
Murkowski said the stimulus package also includes funds for small business loans. She said eight weeks of payroll and other business expenses could be forgiven from the loans.
“The point of all of this is to help bridge this very, very difficult time for our small businesses by giving them the support to keep the businesses solvent, so when we are able to go to work ... the property is still there and the staff, as much as can be made whole, are still there,” said Murkowski.
She also said that Alaska would receive $1.5 billion in funding from the federal government as part of the stimulus package. The package also sets aside $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers around the nation to offset increasing expenses.
“We’re definitely in that financial boat where we’re spending out resources and revenue is down,” said Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter at the briefing.
Twenty-five local COVID-19 test samples have been sent out to laboratories from PMC, with the first seven tests returning back negative, according to PMC’s Lauri Miller. As of Friday evening, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state has increased to 85, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.
Miller also said that the remaining five days of the PMC’s community blood draw were cancelled, but anyone who paid in advance would receive a refund.
Incident Commander Karl Hagerman reminded the public that the borough enacted a second health mandate on Thursday that prevents all local boards, except for the PMC Board of Directors, Petersburg School Board and Borough Assembly, from gathering.
He said there are always more steps that the borough can take to help stop the spread of COVID-19, such as instituting a curfew, but the borough wants to take the least restrictive steps in preventing a local outbreak. He said a health mandate enforcing a curfew hasn’t been drafted, nor has the Borough Assembly requested such a mandate.
“It’s very important, again, that the community takes this seriously, accepts the situation we’re in and does everything we can to prevent a surge in patients who are hospitalized,” said Hagerman.
The Petersburg School District ended their second week of spring break and has begun making preparation for school to resume through distance learning; however, Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said at the daily briefing that the first week or two of class is going to be focused on communication and relationships between students and their teachers.
Mitkof Middle School students have begun picking up their belongings from school, as well as laptops, through curbside pickup. Petersburg High School students will be able to start picking up belongings from school starting Monday, and Rae C. Stedman Elementary School Students are also picking up materials, supplies and activities from their teachers as school is set to resume Monday.
“Just know we all wish we were starting a regular school day on Monday, but we’re going to do our very best to be here and be available and make this as connected as we possibly can for our kids and families,” said Kludt-Painter.
Shelyn Bell, director of assisted living and elderly housing, also provided an update on Mountain View Manner at the daily COVID-19 update Friday. Assisted Living has been closed off to the public for the past three weeks and only essential staff and physicians are allowed in. Bell said that she has no control over who enters the Elderly Sousing side of Mountain View Manor, but she discouraged anyone from visiting.
“We’ve been trying really hard to connect the residents with their families through FaceTime and texting,” said Bell.
Local COVID-19 tests up to 18
The number of test specimens from local residents that have been submitted for testing for COVID-19 has increased to 18. Six of the tests have come back negative and the remaining 12 tests are still pending, said Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter at a daily community COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, March 26.
As of Wednesday evening, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska has reached 59, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Three Alaskan residents have had to be hospitalized and one resident has died, according to ADH&SS.
Incident Director Karl Hagerman said at Thursday’s daily briefing that the borough is taking steps to inform anyone who arrives in Petersburg Harbor of the recent state and local mandates, including Wednesday’s local health mandate that orders residents to shelter in place. A notice has been posted on the borough’s website that instructs mariners arriving in Petersburg Harbor to call the harbormaster’s office if they’re experiencing a fever, cough or shortness of breath and to remain on their vessel. Additional requirements have been put in place for residents and non-residents of Petersburg arriving in the harbor who have been in an area that has had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days. Hagerman said signage will be posted in the harbor soon.
“We’re trying to consolidate a couple different documents to provide that guidance,” said Hagerman. “Anybody who comes into the float will be presented with that sign and have to answer a question whether or not they have signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or been to an area where there’s been transmission of COVID-19.”
On Wednesday evening after the public health mandate was passed, the borough sent out a code red message to residents’ emails and phones to inform the public of the decision. Hagerman said anyone who has not signed up for free notifications can do so on the borough’s website.
Hofstetter said when the first case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the community, the hospital would most likely use the borough’s code red alert system to let the public know the virus is in town.
PMC Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Bryner said that the state’s COVID-19 testing facilities have maintained their current rate of providing results, which seems to be about three days. She said once the first COVID-19 case is confirmed in town, the hospital would initially continue treating those that tested positive the same as residents who are symptomatic and need to be tested.
“We’re already recommending they stay at home and quarantine from their family members and other people,” said Bryner. “That will continue to be the advice for anyone with a mild or moderate illness.”
Bryner also said parents should continue to have their children follow current COVID-19 prevention protocol to prevent them from a community outbreak.
At the Petersburg School District, Superintendent Eric Kludt-Painter said staff is getting ready to begin returning items that were left at school to district students. Mitkof Middle School students will have opportunities to pick up their belongings Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday. Petersburg High School students will be able to pick up their items starting Monday.
Families will be able to drive up to the School district to retrieve belongings from staff, including any technology released to students to begin distance learning. Additional details will be emailed to families and posted on the district’s website soon.
Kludt-Painter also said at the daily community briefing that the district is going to work with students who may have issues getting online to attend classes remotely. Distance learning is expected to start on March 30, but Kludt-Painter said that is a soft return date as the district continues to adjust to a strictly distance learning classroom.
“Hang tough with us,” said Kludt-Painter. “We’re getting through it.”
Three COVID-19 test results all negative
Three of the seven tests that have been submitted for testing have come back negative for COVID-19, according to Laurie Miller, of Petersburg Medical Center. The hospital is still waiting on the results for the remaining four tests.
Since Friday, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have jumped up by 10 cases in the state to 22, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. During that same period of time, the Petersburg Borough Assembly has passed an emergency ordinance that would allow certain borough officials to enact emergency provisions in case of a local emergency and has urged the public to shelter in place in the form of a public health alert.
“We cannot afford to allow that virus to spread unchecked,” said Incident Commander Karl Hagerman in a daily briefing to the public and local media outlets Monday, March 23. “The only way to prevent our hospital from being overwhelmed is to start good practices now before we know it’s here. It may be here already. It likely is.”
Hagerman said the borough’s attorney is currently drafting a stricter document that, if passed by the assembly, would mandate that the public shelter in place. He said the public would still be able to go outside and take walks should the stricter health order pass. He didn’t know when the borough would vote on it.
Hagerman also encouraged fishermen to be mindful of where their crew is coming from, especially if they’re coming from an area of the state or country that has had a COVID-19 outbreak.
“Every skipper is going to have to make a decision on what to do with someone coming from a high-risk area and working on a boat,” said Hagerman.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael also addressed the public on Monday and said it is too soon to determine whether or not someone who has contracted COVID-19 and recovered could get the virus again. She also said that while there hasn’t been an official study to determine if COVID-19 could grow on clothing, the community could still take extra precaution and change their clothes when they return home. The dirty clothes should also be placed in a layered hamper and later washed in the warmest setting that is safest for the particular piece of clothing.
On Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that schools would be closed through May 1 as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state continue to increase. Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said she had anticipated the governor making such a move.
“We were preparing and planning not to start up on [March] 30,” said Kludt-Painter. “It wasn’t a surprise.”
Kludt-Painter said the district has begun disturbing food to children from ages one to 18. Although there were some difficulties during the first day of distribution, the district is working through them. She also encouraged anyone with children who hasn’t signed up for the free meals to do so. Information on the distribution locations and times and how to sign up can be found on the district’s website.
COVID-19 transmitted in state
Since yesterday afternoon, three new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state, all of which were transmitted in Alaska, bringing the state total to 12, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
While two of the three non-travel related cases were reported in the Interior, one was confirmed to be in Ketchikan.
“That should be a cautionary tale for us that it is starting to show up in the community as not travel related,” said Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael in today’s daily COVID-19 update on March 20.
Nearly 700 COVID-19 tests of Alaska Residents have been completed so far. In Petersburg, four swabs have been submitted to laboratories for testing, according to PMC Phil Hofstetter. The first test has come back negative.
Laurie Miller, of Petersburg Medical Center's emergency preparedness department, said PMC does not have the capabilities of testing swabs in town, and she doesn’t know if or when the hospital will be able to perform COVID-19 tests locally.
There are no screenings currently taking place on individuals arriving in town by plane or boat, but that may change in the future, said PMC’s Liz Bacom. She said it would be better for passengers to be screened before getting on an airplane or cruise ship bound for Petersburg.
“That’s a gap that I see statewide,” said Bacom. “People are getting on airplanes and they may not be aware that they're supposed to go into quarantine.”
Local officials weren’t sure whether or not COVID-19 could be spread through the public water supply or through wastewater, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus has not been detected in drinking water. Additionally, transmission of COVID-19 through sewage systems is low, though the virus has been detected in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC.
The Petersburg School District’s food service will resume Monday and be available to all students and their siblings as young as one year old, said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter. The exact times and locations for food pick up, which will include breakfast and lunch, have been emailed to parents this afternoon.
“You’re going to see a nice smiling face dropping off a meal to you,” said Kludt-Painter.
Sandy Dixson, chairperson of The Local Emergency Planning Committee, said the borough has taken its emergency operation center to level two and Utility Director Karl Hagerman has been appointed as incident commander. There will be a planning, operational and financial branch working underneath him as the borough’s response to COVID-19, said Dixson.
“It’s to make sure we’re all on the same page so we’re not scrambling around when something hits,” said Dixson.
Local COVID-19 test comes back negative
Nine cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state, and three Petersburg residents have been tested for the virus, with the first test coming back negative, according to local healthcare officials at today's daily COVID-19 update with local media.
Petersburg Public Health Nurse Erin Michael told the public there were nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Thursday afternoon, March 19. There are four confirmed cases in Anchorage, three in Fairbanks, one in Seward and one in Ketchikan. About 513 Alaska residents have been tested for the virus so far, and Michael said all the confirmed cases were travel related, meaning the individuals were traveling in the Lower 48 and recently returned to Alaska.
Jenna Olsen, registered nurse at Petersburg Medical Center, said three individuals in town have recently been tested for COVID-19, and the first test has come back negative. She said healthcare providers at PMC are being asked to prioritize appointments and possibly talk to patients via telephone.
"We're just trying to go through and prioritize our patients, talk with our patients, let them know what's going on," said Olsen. "We're trying to be very diligent and safe, because we want to have a safe place for people to come and receive care."
Petersburg School District Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said students are expected to begin their school work again on March 30 using distance learning. Additionally, the district's food service will be beginning again on Monday. The time and locations for pickup and delivery routes of food will be announced in the near future, most likely tomorrow.
Sandy Dixson, chairperson of The Local Emergency Planning Committee, said there will be a LEPC teleconference tomorrow. She said the meeting isn't a town hall meeting, but information that is presented at the meeting will be made available to the public. Additionally, Dr. Mark Tuccillo was reappointed as the borough's health officer, said Dixson.