Sitka health officials have released more information on the four coronavirus cases announced on Friday (7-17-20). The following is a transcript of an email Q&A with public health nurse Denise Ewing, who gives more insight into recent cases and explains changes in how contact tracing is conducted throughout the state:

KCAW: Where were the two female residents tested? Mountainside or the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center?

Ewing: Sorry, I have noted just “SEARHC” (again, with help outside of Sitka some of these facts are important to us locally, but not to others, so not all info is captured.

KCAW: Were these travel related or community spread?

Ewing: Not travel related

KCAW: Were the two male non-residents tested at Sitka’s airport or out of state, pre-travel?

Ewing: Sorry I do not have those details on these two.

KCAW: Why did it take so long for the results to come back on these tests?

Ewing: Overall testing has increased in the state and the labs are doing their best to keep up with the increase demand of testing.

KCAW: Are these patients (two male non-residents) still in Sitka?

Ewing: Yes, isolating in Sitka

KCAW: Are you able to do contact tracing for these patients?

Ewing: Yes, contact tracing has been done

KCAW: Are you finding that as you do contact tracing for folks who test positive, have most of the patients been keeping their social circles small? Are patients keeping a good record of who they’ve been in contact with?

Ewing: As I do contact tracing for the entire state of Alaska, I am finding many of the people, especially the younger age range, have been going about their lives mostly as they had prior to the pandemic. Some have modified their activities somewhat, trying to keep their social circles condensed and wear masks, but many of our younger generation have not given it too much attention. Our older generation are definitely more sensitive to health advisories and have dialed back their social lives, limiting themselves to work and home, with the occasional small- social distance family gatherings. In general all ages have been keeping pretty good records of who they have been around, with a few exceptions of those who see so many they cannot recall. We do the best we can do with what someone recalls and suggest they keep a diary of sorts if they should test positive again, especially if they choose to travel.

KCAW: Do we have adequate contact tracing in Sitka, or should we be trying to recruit more support?

Ewing: The State of Alaska has went to a centralized contact tracing system, with the notion, “many hands makes light work.” All PHN’s are helping their areas and helping other areas within the state, alongside UAA non-permanent staff and help from the National Guard. This way no one place is overwhelmed with cases and people are notified in a timely manner, the goal is within less than 24 hours of a positive test result. Because the local PHN has the most experience within their community and often close community ties the local PHN is given the first opportunity to work their local cases over outside region cases. This is the extra attention and devotion we desire to provide “our people”, and is a win-win situation; however being a one nurse station in a place such as Sitka of about 9,000 residents with travelers even more, it is not always possible. We are contact tracing 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, and many of us are pretty tired, so the centralized approach is a smart way of sharing the load.

KCAW: Is there any other information you want us to relay to the public?

Ewing: First, I would like to say, “Thank you” for all you have done and are willing to do for those you love and those you don’t even know. From what I have heard, Sitka has always been known for setting the bar high, and others often follow our lead…now is the time to really push that bar even higher and show each other and other areas we do put others first. We wear our masks when appropriate, even when we don’t want to, we keep a respectful distance because we cannot be absolutely sure we do not have COVID, as many are asymptomatic and it is highly contagious, and we support those who have been affected by as many acts of kindness we can.

Lastly, I would like to say to all of those whom have been personally affected by COVID-19, it’s continual hardships, and losses, our collective hearts go out to you. I have worked with so many that have been affected in various ways, and it has changed their lives forever, for that our hearts grieve for you and yours. Continue to show your care for your neighbor and those you do not know in the many ways you can, not because you are forced, but because you can. Keep strong!