Some downtown Sitka businesses have begun requiring masks again, and others are reducing capacity and updating policies in response to the recent surge in coronavirus cases. (KCAW/Rose)

The Sitka Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is now recommending masking and social distancing for Sitkans, regardless of coronavirus vaccination status. 

When the EOC met on Wednesday (7-14-21), both Fire Chief Craig Warren and Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing emphasized that all Sitkans should follow the recommendations, at least until the recent surge in Sitka tapers off.

While health officials continue to report the vaccine’s high efficacy, even against the more transmissible delta variant of the COVID virus, around 30 % of the coronavirus cases reported last week in Sitka were breakthrough [18 out of 60 reported], meaning the patients contracted the virus even after being fully vaccinated.

Nevertheless, Ewing said those cases were generally much less severe.

“You might have symptoms if you’re vaccinated, but they are not the symptoms that the unvaccinated people are having to endure right now,” she said. “So vaccination is the answer to this along with, while we’re in red and with all of these cases, wearing a mask again, and social distancing.”

She said Sitkans need to bring out of the box the tools they used to reduce the spread in 2020, for what is now the biggest outbreak on record in Sitka.

“And whether you’re vaccinated or not, mask up when you’re around people that are traveling, around people that aren’t in your immediate social small bubble, and whether vaccinated or not, just to keep you safe,” she said. “Until this passes, we just need to be very effective in the measures that we do.”

SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl stressed that the vaccine continues to be a highly effective means of protection against the virus, and urged anyone experiencing symptoms to get tested. 

“Right now, we’re offering walkup testing to to folks at the structure that’s out behind the emergency department every day seven days a week from noon until three, and if you’re having symptoms, if you’re feeling sick, we’d like you to call urgent care and be seen,” he said.

Bruhl said that as of Wednesday no new patients had been admitted to the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center, and several had been discharged, leaving three people currently hospitalized with the virus.