A single surgical mask spotted on the ground in downtown Sitka, in November 2020. Masks have been a part of our daily life for the last two years, and mandated by the city in indoor public spaces since July of 2021 (KCAW/Wilber).

Sitka is shifting its community alert levels to align with new Centers for Disease Control guidelines beginning today (3-1-22). The new guidelines put the city in a “medium” risk level, which means the city’s indoor mask mandate has expired, and masks are now optional in the Sitka School District

The new COVID guidelines use COVID hospitalizations as the primary metric for determining a community’s risk level, followed by case counts. 

The CDC established three community risk levels: low, medium and high.  It recommends masking in indoor public spaces in communities with high risk. At “medium” risk level, it recommends masking indoors for people who are immunocompromised. Masks aren’t recommended for communities considered ‘low risk.’

The risk level is determined by one of two numbers, the hospitalization rate or the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, whichever is higher. If there are fewer than 10 COVID hospitalizations per 100,000 people over the course of a week, a community would be at “low risk” – unless it reports more than 200 new infections over the same week. The CDC says that monitoring case counts could warn of future surges. 

Sitka’s Emergency Operations Center announced the change in a press release issued late last Friday. The group urges Sitkans to be patient while adapting to the new metrics, which could shortly result in a shift to “medium alert,” and the relaxation of Sitka’s indoor mask mandate, which is only in effect when the community is in “high alert.”

Sitka’s indoor mask mandate sunsets on March 22, and goes dormant any time the community drops out of “high” risk level. If the risk level increases before March 22, it will go back into effect.