St. Paul enters ‘hunker down’ after detecting first COVID-19 case of pandemic

A white wooden church with a golden onion dome
Saints Peter and Paul Church on St. Paul Island. (Ian Dickson/KTOO)

St. Paul has implemented a two-week “hunker down” order after officials confirmed the island’s first case of COVID-19 Wednesday — more than a year after the pandemic arrived in the state. 

An essential worker tested positive Wednesday in the small community of 371 residents in the Pribilof Islands, according to City Manager Phil Zavadil. There are an additional 300 seasonal workers and contractors on the island as well. 

More than 60% of the 277 eligible residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Zavadil. Another 20 are currently waiting for their second dose of Moderna.

Zavadil said the person tested negative for the virus before traveling to the island on March 26, but was tested again after exhibiting symptoms Tuesday, and will now complete a 10-day isolation. 

The city’s “hunker down” order, which was passed by the St. Paul City Council in a special meeting Thursday morning, will go into effect at 6 p.m. on Thursday and expire at 6 p.m. on April 15. It requires people to stay home as much as possible.

“Because we are small, we’ve had the luxury of being COVID-free up until yesterday,” said Zavadil. “We’ve had the luxury to go visit family and do things that other communities can’t — still being cautious while we’re doing that. We want to keep [the virus] out as long as we can, and hopefully, this is the only case and it doesn’t go further, and we can get back to somewhat normal business after the ‘hunker down.'” 

Eight people were identified by the local Unified Command as close contacts of the person who tested positive, according to Zavadil. All passengers who traveled with the positive person on the plane to St. Paul were already in travel quarantine, but began a new 14-day quarantine Wednesday, he said. Anyone working with the positive person and the people those workers live with have also been instructed to quarantine for two weeks to contain spread.  

Starting Thursday, the local health center is setting up an outdoor COVID-19 testing location to test any community members that think they may have been exposed.

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