St. Petersburg COVID response team requests mask warrant amid increase in local cases


A sign encouraging COVID-19 precautions last winter in Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki / KFSK)

A St. Petersburg management team responding to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is begging the public for help. The number of cases stood at around 30 on Wednesday. The team is asking residents to get vaccinated if they can, hide indoors, get tested, stay home if they are sick and limit gatherings.

The team will also bring a masking warrant ahead of the borough assembly next week.

Local authorities are very concerned – schools are closed, local businesses are affected and health services are limited.

“Well, the cases keep coming in,” said public health nurse Erin Michael.

Michael does a lot of contact research.

“Obviously we are seeing cases in schools and that is having a ripple effect,” she said. “It affects daycares because they may have siblings or family members attending daycares who are close contact. This affects other businesses, the borough.

St. Petersburg colleges and high schools operate remotely due to cases among staff and students.

“We are buried in contact tracing and testing right now,” said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter.

This year, the Alaska State Department of Education tasked school districts with researching contacts among staff and students.

Some of the Petersburg cases have been students coming to school with symptoms. Others have been caught by compulsory tests for athletes who compete.

“We don’t exist in a vacuum,” Kludt-Painter said. “So the activities and actions that take place outside of school time, in addition to what happens at school, have a direct impact on us. “

Petersburg Medical Center is also dedicating staff to testing in addition to their usual workload. They are running asymptomatic pop-up clinics to deal with the outbreak.

Like other hospitals, PMC also administers monoclonal antibody therapy to some patients with COVID-19. Treatment includes antibodies made in the lab that help people’s immune systems fight off the virus. PMC administered 14 treatments last week.

Jennifer Bryner, PMC’s head nurse, says they have about ten doses left, but there is talk of getting more.

“The other day, the state had 16 doses on its shelves and they were sending them to hospitals that were already running out. So this offer is very limited, ”Bryner said.

If a patient in Petersburg needed a medevac, that could be a problem.

“It’s very tense,” said Liz Bacom, infection prevention manager at PMC. She says large hospitals that usually take medevac patients cannot do so at the moment because they are too full. “This means that if you need an appendectomy, we might have a hard time finding a place for you because these hospitals are not able to accept you. If you have COVID, you may need to stay here longer. We may not be able to provide the same level of care that they could provide to you at Providence. “

Alaska hospitals operate to crisis care standards, which means healthcare workers no longer provide the same type of care to all patients. They prioritize care based on what is available.

PMC hasn’t activated it yet, but CEO Phil Hofstetter says it could be the future.

“If we don’t get our hands on that, we can’t – we’re just going to be in crisis mode,” he said.

The intervention team asks the borough assembly to discuss the implementation of a masking mandate and the limitation of the size of gatherings.

Sandy Dixon is the borough’s emergency manager and is also part of the response team.

“People want things to stay open and operational. This will only happen if we all come together and do our part, ”Dixon said. “So people who reject COVID mitigation measures or think it’s ridiculous or it’s a punishment, please think again because you are or it has an impact on the rest of the community and our ability to operate safely. “

The Petersburg borough had an unenforced masking mandate from November to May. The language allowed many exceptions.

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