Aleutian Islands community sees spike in COVID-19 infections

The small Aleutian Islands community of Sand Point has seen a surge of COVID-19 infections. (Photo courtesy KSDP)
The small Aleutian Islands community of Sand Point has seen a surge of COVID-19 infections. (Photo courtesy KSDP)

Eastern Aleutian Tribes reported seven new COVID-19 infections in Sand Point on August 5. That brings the total to 17 new cases reported in the Eastern Aleutians city since July 16.

Paul Mueller, the CEO of Eastern Aleutian Tribes — which operates the city’s principal health clinic — said the recent uptick in cases is “not just affecting Sand Point, it’s affecting all the other parts of the region as people travel,” during a discussion on KDSP, the public radio station in Sand Point.

Mueller attributed the increase in cases to an event that took place in Sand Point last week. “And from that gathering, the cases have increased, and we’re seeing them on a daily basis go up and up,” he said. He didn’t specify which event caused the outbreak.

​Several people who attended Sand Point’s culture camp, a large gathering held last week, are currently in Unalaska. Officials from Iliuliuk Family and Health Services in Unalaska said people who travelled from Sand Point to Unalaska have all been tested for the virus.

Many organizations in Sand Point have closed to in-person business due to the outbreak, but municipal officials have not yet mandated any city-wide closures.

Mueller would not respond to questions about whether neighboring communities have been notified about the rise in infections or what caused this uptick in cases.

Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a staff physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and a member of the state’s COVID-19 task force, reinforced the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and getting tested.

But Rabinowitz also offered some hope.

“Although this seems daunting and scary when there’s a surge in cases in such a small community, you guys know how to work together and communicate well, because you are a small community,” she said. “That’s how you make it through every winter — helping each other out, helping find resources for individuals that have a harder time navigating the system. That’s what’s going to get everyone through this.”

Healthcare professionals advise anyone who may have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19 to isolate and get tested.

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