Streaming concerts, virtual hospital visits: Everyday life disrupted by Ketchikan’s pandemic surge

Schoenbar Middle School Music Director Jamie Karlson offers feedback to the middle school’s band during a dress rehearsal for a virtual concert on Tuesday. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Some Ketchikan businesses have shut their doors, and community events have been canceled after emergency officials raised the community’s pandemic risk level to its highest level. The rise in COVID-19 infections is disrupting everyday life.

At the Schoenbar Middle School gym, students helped Dean of Students Kelly Smith count the times Ozzy Osbourne laughs at the beginning of “Crazy Train.”

They were coaching Smith for his role in the Schoenbar band’s end-of-year concert. Music Director Jamie Karlson, who leads the Schoenbar band and choir, said she’s been eagerly anticipating the event.

“I’ve been really, really, really, really looking forward to this opportunity for months since we started planning it, because for many of my students, this is — was — going to be the first time they get to perform for a real audience,” Karlson said.

“Was” is the key word there. Because of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Ketchikan area, the concert — like so many other things — had to go virtual.

Karlson said that it was tough news when she heard the local pandemic risk level was rising, leading school officials to cancel many in-person events.

“Oh, man tears. I had a few crying spats at home — don’t tell the kids that,” Karlson said. “I’m trying to be strong. It was a big, big bummer.”

She said performing in front of a video camera just doesn’t compare to a room full of people.

“Some of them have not had that experience, which I think is so important for the performing arts to get to feel that energy from a live audience. And it’s just been a different year for that,” Karlson said.

With the rise in COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan, the band concert isn’t the only event going virtual — the annual Totem to Totem half-marathon quickly pivoted from an in-person race to a virtual time trial, where runners run at their convenience and report their times.

Dancers in Ketchikan Theater Ballet recently streamed their recital online from an empty high school auditorium.

And PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center is tightening restrictions on visitors, rehab services manager Jennifer Kolanko said.

“At this moment in time, we are restricting all visitors in the emergency department, urgent care and the hospital. There are some exceptions. One designated visitor may be allowed for labor and delivery, pediatric, cognitively impaired or disabled and end of life patients,” Kolanko said.

She said the restrictions are aimed at making sure patients are able to seek medical care without putting themselves at risk of catching COVID-19.

Kolanko said hospital staff are happy to help patients and families set up video chats — but some things just don’t translate.

“If you’re going in for an ultrasound, and you have a new baby, and you want to share that with your spouse, that would be a change. That kind of thing is really hard. You can’t really replace that with technology,” she said.

Hospital officials say Ketchikan’s daily case rate would have to fall “by at least half” before the policy is relaxed. Kolanko said the best way to make that happen is to follow health officials’ advice.

“We’ve been dealing with this since  last year, and I think it can be hard sometimes to not become complacent with some of these recommendations,” she said. “We just need to hang in there.”

That means masking up in public places, keeping distance, avoiding crowds and washing hands, “and then, of course, last, but certainly not least, and very importantly, to consider vaccination,” Kolanko said.

“I think, in order to see these things change, we really need to do a combination of all of these things,” she said.

Back at the middle school, seventh-grade trombonist Amook Bullock said he’s a little disappointed that his friends and family can’t cheer him on in an auditorium.

“But then again, it could have been like, ‘Oh, well, this person gets COVID,’” Bullock said. “Well, that sucks, because we just had a concert, so it could have been from that.”

Plus, Bullock said he’s glad his out-of-town relatives can watch him play “Crazy Train” online.

The middle school’s choir concert, which was just a few days away, is now on hold after another new case of COVID-19 was discovered in the middle school.

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