Yakutat sees first case of COVID-19

Yakutat is a coastal community of 600 people halfway between Anchorage and Juneau. (CoastAlaska file photo)

The community of Yakutat has its first case of COVID-19. 

Officer John Waldron, Yakutat’s Incident Commander, said he found out Thursday morning that a resident who recently travelled outside of the community had tested positive for the virus. 

The Yakutat Community Health Center, where the person was tested, said in a media release that the person is currently isolating at home. 

The health center is cancelling all of its regular outpatient visits. But, medical providers will still be on-call at all times for emergencies. It will continue COVID-19 testing in the parking lot.

Waldron said this is the city’s first identified case, but they’ve been preparing for it.  

“It wasn’t ‘if it’s going to happen,’ it was ‘when it’s going to happen here,’” he said. 

He said people are concerned because the community has a lot of elders and people with underlying health conditions.

“Again like it is across the nation, the younger invincibles are not so worried about it,” Waldron said. “But like we try to explain to them that if they get it, they have the possibility of bringing it home to their moms and dads or grandparents when they’re visiting or helping them.”

He said there aren’t as many visitors to the community as they usually get in the summer, but there has been an uptick in recent weeks — the community is seeing about 100 – 150 visitors a week.

“For a community of 700, that’s a big influx,” he said. 

Typically, their busiest months would be August and September when sportfishermen from all over the world come into town.

“We have a lot of bed and breakfasts and lodges and service industry for tourists. They’re the ones that really need to step up and truly understand that if they have a person who has COVID they’re stuck there until they have two negative tests,” Waldron said. “Just trying to inform the public that you know social distancing and masks when appropriate, use them. Our local residents are very good about it.”

This is a breaking news story that will be updated as information becomes available.  

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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