Cordova, Sitka in high alert as COVID-19 infections spike

A boat in the harbor of Cordova, Alaska.
A boat in the harbor of Cordova, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 5:30 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - “They’re not creeping, they’re sprinting.”

That’s how Cordova City Manager Helen Howarth described the recent uptick in novel coronavirus cases in the small Prince William Sound community. With the addition of Friday’s updated case count from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the town now has 51 active cases.

On Friday, the city announced it had raised its public health advisory to red, and that Cordova is in high alert status. The community, along with Sitka in the Southeast, is calling on residents to take precautions as case counts rise.

The spike in Cordova started last week, Howarth said. According to the city press release, it’s the largest outbreak the town has experienced since the start of the pandemic.

Friday’s report from the state health department shows 17 new cases for Cordova over the last two days. State data shows there were 31 new cases identified among Cordova residents in the last week alone.

The city is not instituting any new health restrictions, but is strongly recommending residents take the following steps: wearing a mask in public when social distancing can’t be achieved, getting tested if experiencing symptoms, getting vaccinated, and following all quarantine protocols if diagnosed with the virus.

Howarth said the increased cases are mostly from clusters of family units. Knowing that, she said the city was aware the case count would likely continue to grow.

The city also has a festival, the Copper River Salmon Jam, to contend with. Festival events started this week and continue through the weekend, and Howarth said it usually brings in people from around the state. However, the city has put mitigation measures in place, she said, and officials don’t think it’ll become a spreader event.

The weather is good, she said, meaning people will be able to spread out to enjoy music and events outdoors.

Howarth said that with the exception of just a few nonresident cases, the current outbreak is really down to local community members who, like many across the state, have gotten a bit comfortable and are taking fewer precautions since cases had been relatively low lately.

“The good news is everyone knows what to do,” she said. “This isn’t new.”

The announcement of 51 active COVID-19 cases in Cordova a year ago would have sent quite a shock through the community, Howarth said, and officials would have been less prepared to handle it than they are now. As it stands, she said residents are aware of what they need to do to slow the spread.

“It’s in your hands,” she said. “Let’s stop it now.”

Sitka, too, is experiencing a large recent increase in COVID-19 cases, prompting the Southeast Alaska city to raise its alert level to high as well. Friday’s case count from the state health department reported 38 new cases for Sitka over the last two days.

State data shows 100 new COVID-19 cases identified in Sitka residents from July 1 through July 15. New cases jumped from four on July 9 to seven on June 10, to 15 new cases on Monday. The state recorded 22 new cases on Thursday alone.

“In this high alert level, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is recommending that you mask up whether you are vaccinated or not, encourage you to social distance, please stay home if you are sick, and talk to your healthcare provider about the COVID-19 vaccine to find out if it is right for you,” the city wrote in a social media post Thursday.

A weekly case update from the health department sent out on Friday shows that transmission of the virus is on the rise across Alaska.

“This is the fourth week in a row of week-over-week increases,” the report states.

The statewide alert level is currently intermediate. Alaska as a whole has a daily average case rate over the last 14 days of 6.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Hospital capacity statewide remains adequate, according to the weekly update.

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