Metlakatla reports third COVID death; officials link outbreak to Ketchikan pool tournament

Metlakatla’s longhouse on Oct. 3, 2020. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Authorities in Metlakatla reported the community’s third death from COVID-19 Tuesday evening. They did not identify the victim.

It’s Metlakatla’s second COVID-19 death reported in eight days. The state’s sole Alaska Native reserve has reported 48 coronavirus cases. That means roughly 6% of Metlakatla residents diagnosed with COVID-19 have died.

In recent weeks, Metlakatla has reckoned with its largest-ever COVID-19 outbreak, but new cases appear to be slowing.

Local officials reported five new cases of COVID-19 last week and added another Wednesday. As of Wednesday evening’s update, seven people remain infected with the disease. That’s down from a high of 21 on May 21.

Ketchikan-based state public health nurse Arizona Jacobs said last week that the surge of cases in Metlakatla is thought to be linked to the surge of cases in Ketchikan.

A wrestling tournament hosted at Ketchikan High School in mid-April led to cases of COVID-19 across Southeast Alaska. But Jacobs says a pool tournament spread across several Ketchikan bars the following weekend was associated with “far more” cases than the wrestling event, though she did not provide specific figures.

Jacobs says that’s likely how the virus made it to Metlakatla early last month.

“This person, I believe, attended both the wrestling tournament and the pool tournament,” Jacobs said in an interview last week.

Because COVID-19 symptoms can take as long as two weeks to develop, it’s hard to say exactly when and where an infected person caught the coronavirus, but Jacobs says the pool tournament is the most likely source.

Local officials in Metlakatla have banned most gatherings since the outbreak began in early May and continue to urge residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. For more information on COVID-19 vaccination and testing in Metlakatla, call the Annette Island Service Unit at 886-4741.

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