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COVID-19 daily update:

 

Hospital requires all employees to wear masks

April 2

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

March 30

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

March 27

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

March 26

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

March 23

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

March 20

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

March 19

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.

 

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