As outbreak worsens, Ketchikan raises pandemic risk level to ‘very high’ for first time

PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. (Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

Authorities in Ketchikan have for the first time raised the community’s pandemic risk level to its highest mark. That’s as at least three COVID-19 clusters, including one centered on the local high school, are driving case numbers to heights Ketchikan has never seen.

Officials are asking residents to slow the spread of COVID-19, asking restaurants, bars, personal services and gyms to close and encouraging telework in other settings. But the emergency officials note that each organization “must evaluate these recommendations against the anticipated impacts on operations and decide on appropriate actions to take.”

Pandemic response officials say vaccination rates for employees, staff and customers may be a mitigating factor. The EOC’s recommendations for vaccinated people will remain the same — essentially, business as usual with the exception of large gatherings.

As of Tuesday, officials say one person is currently admitted to the COVID-19 unit at Ketchikan’s hospital. Some 77 cases are active in the community, and 65 have been reported in the past week. Ketchikan’s positivity rate is at 4.43%. That’s a record high.

Two schools are set to close to in-person learning for the rest of the week: Houghtaling Elementary and Schoenbar Middle School.

A wide variety of public facilities are also set to close to the public, including Ketchikan’s library, rec center, city hall, museums and animal shelter. And local fields are closed to organized sports.

Events with more than 20 people are also discouraged. But none of the Ketchikan EOC’s recommendations are mandatory.

A vaccine clinic for those 12 and up is planned for Ketchikan High School for Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with no appointments required. Children under 18 must bring a parent or guardian.

Officials in Metlakatla, just south of Ketchikan, declared a 72-hour lockdown after testing revealed five cases of COVID-19 in the community. That’s according to a notice posted online. Businesses are permitted to remain open only with a safety plan approved by the mayor’s office. Masks are required in public spaces. Metlakatla residents are required to quarantine at home until local officials have completed contact tracing. The active case count in the community of about 1,000 rose to seven Tuesday evening.

Acting Ketchikan school district superintendent Katie Parrott asked community members to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms prior to venturing outside the home.

“We have a very limited window of time to bring our community risk level down in order for our students to enjoy the end-of-the-year activities they so enjoy and look forward to each year,” Parrott said.

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