Health officials in Sitka are encouraged by the steady downward trend in COVID infections in the community.

A total of six new cases were reported on Monday and Tuesday, lowering Sitka’s seven-day average to 44.

At the latest meeting of the Sitka Emergency Operations Center on February 9, it had already become clear that Sitka was on the downslope of the omicron surge.

Mt. Edgecumbe High School superintendent Janelle Vanasse said that between students who were fully vaccinated, and those who had contracted the virus, about 90-percent of the school’s population now had some form of immunity.

She said that some mitigation measures were being relaxed, both on campus, and off.

“So we are currently working on a phased plan,” she said. “And we will take it slowly. You will start to see students in town. They’ve begun ‘town leave’ again, and SeaMart  runs. And they’ve been at the Sitka  basketball games. So you’re going to see Mt. Edgecumbe students out and about a little bit more again.”

Sitka School District superintendent Frank Hauser reported that the decline in cases had eased staffing shortages in the schools somewhat. There are currently no cases associated with district buildings. He added that a plan to revert to a “masks-optional” policy in school buildings that was derailed in January, is back on track.

“We had hoped to transition to mass optional shortly after winter break in January, which would have provided everyone who chose the opportunity to be vaccinated,” said Hauser. “But omicron delayed our plans. I announced at the beginning of January that SSD would transition to masks optional on the other side of this current surge.”

Hauser said that the district’s Smart Start teams had evaluated regional health metrics before making the decision to move ahead with the masks-optional plan – which will go into effect on March 22, when Sitka’s mask mandate sunsets.

Pharmacist Trish White reported that her Friday vaccination clinic hours had changed to noon to 2 p.m., to make it easier to bring in young children after school. She also said that the clinics were reaching their intended audience.

“We continue every now and again — actually every clinic — to have a first timer, which is exciting, and that’s always kind of a celebratory thing. And we were gifted with the federal supply of N95 masks at both stores, and there are still supplies of those in. So if you’d like a free mask for yourself, two per person, come on into Harry Race or White’s, and we have those.”

The downward trend in Sitka is good news, but statewide, infections are still running fairly high – with 468 new cases reported on Tuesday. Nevertheless, after a daily high of 3,400 cases in mid-January, Alaska as a whole appears to be recovering from the omicron surge. Both the state and Sitka remain in high alert; the Emergency Operations Center reminds Sitkans that a mask mandate is in effect in public indoor areas until March 22, 

Sadly, the state reported that four more Alaskans have died from COVID-19, pushing the pandemic total to 1,141. The deaths likely occurred during last fall’s delta surge, but are only now being reported due to delays in the death certificate review process.