The Sitka Assembly held a special meeting Friday (3-13-20) to update the public on covid-19 and Sitka’s response. Audience members sat in chairs that were spaced out across the room, to reduce proximity. (KCAW/Rose)

The number of tests for COVID-19 available to Sitkans has increased. The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has contracted with the private company, LabCorp, and as of Friday (3-13-20) 800 test kits were available in the SEARHC system. They expect that more will be available in the coming days, in addition to the around 200 kits available from the state. 

The Sitka Assembly held a special meeting on Friday afternoon (3-13-20) along with representatives from the school district, Sitka Tribe, and medical professionals to update the public on Sitka’s response to coronavirus. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl said that once they collect a sample to test for COVID-19, results take about 2 to 3 days for a return, as the kits must be sent to Seattle for testing. In Sitka, two people are under investigation.

“Both of them are isolated at home, and I do not have any results on those patients,” he said. “Currently we do not have anybody who has tested positive in our system and of course if that were to be the case you would know about it immediately.”

Bruhl confirmed that one of those individuals was a SEARHC employee. 

Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center is screening all visitors and patients before they come into the facility. The Pioneer Home is limiting visitors to staff and family, and screening at the front door. 

Currently, SEARHC will only test individuals who meet certain criteria: To be tested a patient must have recently traveled to an affected area or been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. They must also have a fever and respiratory symptoms. Bruhl said SEARHC is putting together a special location to screen for cases outside of the hospital. 

“When we receive phone calls from people who have concerns about their own possibility of having this type of an illness, we are creating a location for them to be screened outside of the hospital and outside of the clinics. Kind of a drive-through situation,” Bruhl said, adding that SEARHC would provide more information about the new drive-through clinic on Monday (3-16-20). 

City administrator John Leach said that the city has not declared a state of emergency yet, as there are still no confirmed cases, but he has directed city sponsored events and gatherings be postponed or cancelled, including any events held at Harrigan Centennial Hall.  They’re in the process of establishing an emergency operations center at the fire hall. Leach said city hall will remain open and city meetings will continue, but they’re working on plans to allow for easier remote attendance of public meetings.