(Photo by Berett Wilber/KCAW)

Sitka is reporting 14 active cases of the coronavirus, the highest number since the pandemic began in March.

That’s following news late Thursday (11-5-20) that three more Sitkans have tested positive. One is a woman in her twenties who had symptoms when she took a test on Sunday (11-1-20). Her case is classified as secondary, which means she had known contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Another is a man in his thirties who took a test on Tuesday (11-3-20), and the third case is a man in his sixties who took a test on Wednesday (11-4-20). Information about symptoms and transmission for both men is still unknown, according to city data. Contact tracing is underway for all three new cases.

Sitka remains in the high alert level, but at Wednesday’s Unified Command meeting, Municipal Administrator John Leach asked Sitkans to stay calm. The number of active cases is still a tiny fraction of Sitka’s population, he said.

“Yes, we are in high, but we also have numbers that are showing, me anyway, that we’re still responding appropriately to keep the numbers as low as we possibly can,” Leach said.

He emphasized the responsibility of the individual in helping slow the spread of COVID-19. He asked Sitkans to follow public health recommendations like mask wearing, social distancing and taking a test if symptoms arise. 

“It’s the people of Sitka that are going to decide how this spreads and if it spreads,” Leach said. “So, we make these recommendations. If we want this gone, follow the recommendations, watch out for each other.”

Sitka’s cumulative case count is now at 94. SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl said some cases at Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center forced them to shut down most visitation at the hospital. 

“We’ve had a number of COVID-positive cases in the hospital. We currently have four in the hospital,” he said. “We currently have two staff members that are positive. And we also had a positive case of a contractor that was coming into town that we identified with testing prior to them actually working. So we’ve been very diligent with the staff in terms of personal protective equipment and safety.”

The hospital isn’t the only organization that’s closing off normal public access now that an increase in COVID-19 cases bumped the city into the “high risk” zone. Fire Chief Craig Warren said the Sitka Fire Department is closed to the public again, and volunteers will conduct limited safety drills outdoors.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska closed its offices to the public on Wednesday, although The Ride, Sitka’s only public transit system, will continue operating, and STA will continue to provide essential services to Tribal Citizens by appointment. 

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member. KCAW’s Katherine Rose also contributed to this story.