All Sitkans advised to wear masks as local COVID cases hit pandemic high

A man with a white beard gets a shot in the shoulder
Sitkan Charlie Wilber receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in January, 2021. (KCAW/Berett Wilber)

Twenty more Sitkans tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, according to information added to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard.

All but one of the patients were experiencing symptoms at the time of testing. The patients vary widely in age from a child under 10 to a woman in her 80s. Seven of the patients are in their 30s. Contact tracing is still in progress for most of the cases.

So far, two of the cases are listed as “secondary,” meaning they had known contact with a positive patient. One case is tied to community spread.

Public health officials have not yet specified how many of the latest wave of patients are unvaccinated.

The 20 new cases push Sitka’s total active COVID-19 infection count to 67, and the rolling case rate is now the highest it has been since the pandemic began.

As of Tuesday afternoon, six patients were hospitalized at the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center.

In response to the dramatic surge in COVID cases, the Sitka Assembly heard a report this week from Craig Warren, the emergency operations center leader and fire chief, and SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl. Warren and Bruhl said that the new peak has been driven mostly by unvaccinated cases.

They also said that the emergency operations center now recommends that all Sitkans — vaccinated or unvaccinated — wear masks in public. This diverges from current CDC guidelines, which state that fully-vaccinated people can resume most activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. But the CDC also says vaccinated people should still mask when required by federal, state, local or tribal laws and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

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