Metlakatla reports third COVID death; officials link outbreak to pool tournament

A structure, with mountains in the background, painted with Tlingit art.
Metlakatla’s longhouse on Oct. 3, 2020. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Authorities in Metlakatla on Tuesday reported the community’s third death from COVID-19. They have not yet identified the person.

It’s Metlakatla’s second COVID-19 death reported in eight days.

Metlakatla is a small community in Southeast Alaska, and the state’s sole Alaska Native reserve.

It has now reported 48 coronavirus cases. That means roughly 6% of its residents diagnosed with COVID-19 have died.

The deaths come as Metlakatla wrestles with its largest-ever COVID-19 outbreak, but new cases appear to be slowing.

Local officials reported five new cases of COVID-19 last week and added another Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening’s update, seven people remain infected with the disease. That’s down from a high of 21 on May 21.

Ketchikan-based state public health nurse Arizona Jacobs said the surge of cases in Metlakatla is thought to be linked to the surge of cases about 15 miles north, in Ketchikan.

A wrestling tournament hosted at Ketchikan High School in mid-April led to cases of COVID-19 across Southeast. But Jacobs said a pool tournament spread across several Ketchikan bars the following weekend was associated with “far more” cases than the wrestling event, though she did not provide specific figures.

Jacobs said that’s likely how the virus made it to Metlakatla early last month.

“This person, I believe, attended both the wrestling tournament and the pool tournament,” Jacobs said in an interview last week.

Local officials in Metlakatla have banned most gatherings since the outbreak began in early May and continue to urge residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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