Metlakatla reports COVID-19 death as community faces worst outbreak yet

A view a cliffside of a community surrounded by water and mountains.
The view from Yellow Hill overlooking Metlakatla. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

The Southeast Alaska community of Metlakatla is facing its worst COVID-19 outbreak to date.

On Monday, local officials announced the community’s second death from the disease during the pandemic.

At the beginning of May, Metlakatla officials had reported only 13 cases of COVID-19 on the island since the pandemic started last year. Strict travel protocols, a mask mandate and distancing rules seemed to be working.

But by May 10, five people in the community had tested positive. At first, Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor Reginald Atkinson said, it seemed like authorities had a handle on the outbreak.

“They were locally here doing a good job on isolating and locating the source,” Atkinson said.

RELATED: New COVID case numbers on Alaska’s Panhandle lead state and country

But then, Atkinson said, people who hadn’t recently traveled or come in contact with an infected person started testing positive.

“The outbreak entered into the community spread phase, which went kind of like wildfire,” he said.

Since May 10, Metlakatla has reported 29 cases — more than twice the total number of cases reported prior to that date. And the roughly 1,000-person community hit an all-time high of 21 active COVID-19 cases last week.

“By the end of this past weekend, it was pretty tense,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said the rash of cases — each one requiring time-consuming contact tracing — has strained the local clinic’s capacity. He said some people who tested positive wouldn’t cooperate with contact tracers. Some even provided health officials with false information.

Officials have not given any more information on the person who died.

Over the weekend, Atkinson issued a statement online warning local officials may soon issue a shelter-in-place order. As of Monday, though, Atkinson said no order had been issued, and the number of active cases had fallen to 13.

Previous articleVeteran Fairbanks police officer quits, alleges sexual harassment and retaliation
Next articleMurkowski supports commission to investigate attack on Capitol