Update 7-23-21, 1:30 PM: The text of this story has been updated to reflect new data shared with KCAW this morning, which included the number of breakthrough cases counted over the last three days.
Over the last two days, Sitka reported 64 coronavirus cases (7/22-7/23).
Many of the new cases are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, and all were experiencing symptoms when they received testing, according to the city’s COVID dashboard. 4 of the new cases are “non-residents.” Contact tracing is still in progress for most of the cases, so it’s still unclear where most of the cases contracted the virus.
When the Sitka Emergency Operations Center met on Wednesday (7-22-21), Incident commander and Fire Chief Craig Warren said community members were calling on the EOC to do more to protect Sitka amid the recent COVID surge. He said the group was doing what it could.
“I want citizens to know that we are hearing what you’re saying,” he said. “We’ve been getting the emails, we’ve been getting the concerns, and we do hear you. And not by way of excuse, but we want to make sure that the citizens know that there is a limit to the authority of the EOC.”
Warren said that they were exercising all of their legal authority as an advisory body.
“We’re asking citizens to do what’s right. And after 18 months, everyone should know that,” he said. “Get vaccinated. Wear a mask and socially distance, and practice good hygiene.”
Warren shared a report from SEARHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl, who was not at the meeting. He said as of Wednesday, 4 people were currently hospitalized with the virus.
“The hospital is doing well. They’re keeping up with everything. They’re not even calling it a surge at this point,” he said. “There are three to seven cases on the floor in a given day.”
Still, EMS Captain Rob Janik said that their team of first responders was busy.
“But again, we’re almost at that point where, you know, if the acuity gets worse, or the numbers jump again, on top of what we have, we may end up being in a struggle to keep our heads above water,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
Fire Chief Warren continued to recommend masking and social distancing, regardless of vaccination status, to stop the spread of the virus, citing “breakthrough” cases, Sitkans who have contracted the virus after being fully vaccinated.
Read KCAW’s interview with state epidemiologists on the nature of ‘breakthrough’ cases in Sitka
Earlier this week, the city released vaccine data for individual COVID cases to the public, but as of Thursday (7-22-21) afternoon the information was no longer available on the COVID dashboard.
In an email to KCAW, City Administrator John Leach said that the city has temporarily removed that data to address concerns from state health officials. KCAW has reached out to DHSS for more information.
In a follow-up email on Friday morning (7-23-21) Leach provided updated data from the story we aired on Thursday. He said that of the 271 positive cases reported between June 1 and July 22, 109 were breakthrough cases, or about 40 %. While that number is higher than the national average, it accounts for 2.1 percent of Sitka’s vaccinated population (5162 Sitkans are fully vaccinated, according to city data).
162 of the new cases over the same time period were unvaccinated, around 60%. That means a little over 7% of Sitka’s total unvaccinated population has recently been infected with the virus.