Petersburg sees wave of COVID cases after large gatherings

COVID home tests
Boxed COVID home tests (Courtesy City and Borough of Juneau)

The small Southeast Alaska island community of Petersburg is dealing with a new wave of COVID-19 cases, in the wake of several large public gatherings.

Jennifer Bryner, the chief nursing officer at Petersburg’s medical center, said it’s impossible to know the exact number of cases in town because of the widespread use of home test kits — but from what she’s witnessed in the past few weeks, she knows it’s a lot.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of new COVID activity,” Bryner said. “I would say it’s probably quite widespread in the community. We’re definitely seeing more people calling and letting us know that they have COVID-19, or asking for Paxlovid treatment.”

Many people who catch the virus choose to test and recover at home. But a lot are getting diagnosed in the emergency room with more severe symptoms — fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and loss of smell. Bryner said the influx of COVID-19 patients coincides with large numbers of people traveling in and out of town in early summer.

Petersburg hosted the Little Norway Festival in May, which drew huge crowds. Then hundreds more came out for two weddings that took place on the first weekend of June. Bryner said COVID-19 patients are arriving in Petersburg from visiting cruise ships as well.

“We’ve definitely had cruise ship passengers and crew,” Bryner said. “I’m not saying that that’s how it’s getting here — but there are definitely a lot of people who we see from the cruise ships.”

Bryner said Petersburg Medical Center is prepared to handle the wave of patients. They’re well-staffed and well-stocked with Paxlovid, and there have been no COVID-19 hospitalizations so far this month. But she encourages locals to stay vigilant.

The Alaska Department of Health recommends one of the updated booster shots for everybody 6 months and older. Those who are immunocompromised or over the age of 65 may be eligible for a second dose.

Bryner said those who have been exposed to the virus or are developing symptoms should take a test, although some home tests may not turn positive immediately.

“It takes sometimes a while for you to get enough of the virus in your nasal area to turn the test positive,” Bryner said. “The main story is that if you have symptoms, you should stay clear from people — versus just saying, ‘Oh, I had a negative test, and I’m free.’ You might turn positive tonight or the next day.”

Free take-home test kits are available at Petersburg’s Public Library and at the front desk of the Medical Center.

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