Some Southeast communities see COVID cases rise

State surge affecting smaller locales

COVID-19 cases are surging in Southeast Alaska, even in some smaller communities where virus spread had previously been low.

The City of Hoonah is experiencing a surge in cases according to Mayor Gerald Byers, but he told the Empire in an interview Tuesday the community was participating in mitigation measures.

“Everybody’s been more proactive in testing,” Byers said. “The health care facility was great in handling it. We seem to be weathering this storm well, as well as can be expected.”

The city has a mask mandate for public buildings and testing for airport arrivals, Byers said, and there are additional mitigation measures the city can take.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services, Hoonah’s region is currently under high alert for COVID-19, as are every other region of the state except Wrangell, Petersburg and the Aleutians East Borough. According to DHSS, Wrangell’s alert level is currently moderate while Petersburg is the only region in the state with a low alert level.

“That’s one of the luxuries of being a small community,” said Carly Allen, hospital administrator for Wrangell Medical Center. “Every community is struggling on their own timeline. We’ve seen some peaks and now we’re in a valley. Basically, it’s just luck. We’re not doing anything different than the rest of the state.”

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In Hoonah, city schools are shut down, indoor gatherings are not allowed and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Bars and restaurants are limited to delivery and curbside pick-up, according to the city’s website. A Sept. 23 news release from the city said there were 24 active cases in Hoonah.

Wrangell has only had a total of 141 cases, and as of Sept. 26, had only nine active cases, according to the city’s COVID-19 website.

Under the state’s metrics, Petersburg is under a low alert level, but the city’s own metrics are “elevated” for the community and high for schools. The city currently has 29 active cases, and a Sept. 23 news release says masks were being required in borough buildings due to “the rapidly increasing number of COVID cases which are now occurring in Petersburg.”

In a voicemail message, Petersburg Borough Manager Steve Giesbrecht said the city was experiencing a local outbreak, adding, “I doubt we’re still in blue.”

However, officials were confident in the city’s ability to deal with cases. Both Byers and Allen said their communities were well outfitted with supplies such as testing kits and masks.

Many communities in the state are reporting high case numbers and medical officials have repeatedly said the vast majority of those needing hospitalization are unvaccinated. The state has been working through a data backlog. On Tuesday, DHSS reported 726 new cases —694 residents, 32 nonresidents —and 10 recent deaths.

According to DHSS, on Monday there were 221 COVID-related hospitalizations with 36 patients on ventilators.

The City and Borough of Juneau reported 24 new cases Tuesday and on Monday announced two recent deaths from COVID-19 at Bartlett Regional Hospital. The deaths were both Juneau residents the city said in a release, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s, bringing the total number of resident deaths to 11.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.