Following community testing event, Seldovia Village Tribe finds no positive cases

The remote community of Seldovia across Kachemak Bay can breathe a bit easier for now in the wake of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic — a community testing event sponsored by Seldovia Village Tribe found that in mass testing of 168 of the town’s residents, none of them have COVID-19.

Seldovia Village Tribe held a testing day on April 29 to get a “snapshot” of where the rural community was at in terms of the disease, said Laurel Hilts, marketing and public relations director for the tribe. The sample collection for the tests was done by staff from SVT Health & Wellness, which is owned and operated by the tribe.

Once samples were collected from 168 people (about half of the town’s estimated year-round population of 375) they were sent to Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage for processing. A joint press release from the tribe and the City of Seldovia announced Monday that all tests results had come back negative.

While the event was sponsored and paid for by the tribe, testing was open to all Seldovia residents.

“These results are encouraging,” the joint release states. “Still they do not indicate that Seldovia is protected from future exposure to the Coronavirus.”

Hilts said in an interview last week that the tribe hasn’t ruled out holding a subsequent testing event — it’s to be determined and will be based on how the tribe observes the coronavirus threat in relation to the community going forward.

The state’s current guidelines for testing for COVID-19 do not encourage testing asymptomatic people. However, tribal organizations have been encouraged to do widespread testing, Hilts said. She said the Seldovia Village Tribe analyzed the best options for figuring out what the coronavirus situation was in the community. Antibody tests were considered, but Hilts said the tribe felt at this point that those tests have not yet reached the necessary level of assurance.

“What if we did just do a snapshot in time for Seldovia?” she said of the thought process.

A Seldovia resident could still get infected with the disease from this point on, Hilts noted, so the negative tests results don’t necessarily mean the town can relax completely.

Currently, the city is following state mandates when it comes to travel restrictions. Anyone entering the harbor in Seldovia from a different community needs to have the state-mandated travel form, Hilts said. Individual airlines like Smokey Bay Air have also started screening passengers of their own accord, she said. So is Mako’s Water Taxi, which also provides transportation in and out of Seldovia.

While there are some travel restrictions, Hilts said residents still have freedom of movement between their homes and the mainland. For example, people with summer homes in Seldovia will likely begin returning soon, bringing an influx of people to the isolated community.

“We have also seen people coming and going for essential work needs and also the transport of goods,” Hilts said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said that small communities off the road system will have more autonomy and will be allowed to enforce more strict travel restrictions than the state in order to protect their residents. Hilts said those are steps the Seldovia City Council could take if necessary.

“I think the strong feeling, the strong message is to use caution, to be personally responsible and to have a spirit or heart of protecting one another,” Hilts said.

She said Seldovia Village Tribe recognizes that COVID-19 is here to stay for awhile. It’s unlikely that the village will be able to avoid it altogether. She said the tribe is focusing on ways to protect its elders, to boost the health of local residents and to make sure the community’s children are safe.

“Our choice is to live with responsible thinking,” Hilts said.

Should a positive case of COVID-19 be discovered in Seldovia, that test result would be reported to Public Health and announced by the state the following day.

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