Ketchikan sees its 14th COVID death as cases and hospitalizations remain high

Nurses Arizona Jacobs, left, and Theresa Ruzek work during an April 10, 2021 COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Hyder. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Another Ketchikan resident has died of complications from COVID-19, according to the state health department. Officials say the patient was a man in his 60s. That raises Ketchikan’s reported COVID-19 death toll to 14.

Cases remain high in Ketchikan. Public Health Nurse Manager Jen Bergen says cases and hospitalizations appear to have plateaued but aren’t falling.

“We’re seeing high community transmission and that pretty much been for the — I believe it’s we’re going on a month now, we’re seeing a slight decrease but then a creep back up. And then hospitalizations have really been kind of steady,” she said. “We really do want to see that come down. So I would say overall we’re kind of just holding steady.”

Ketchikan has been at a high COVID-19 alert level since the beginning of August, according to the state health department.

All but two of Ketchikan’s recorded COVID-19 deaths — 12 of the 14 — have occurred since Aug. 1, according to state data. At least 14 Ketchikan residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in that period.

Some 64% of Ketchikan residents eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and inoculations have slowed in recent months — the vaccination rate has grown at a rate of just over 1 percentage point per month since August, according to state data.

Bergen says that even with seven people reported hospitalized in Ketchikan late last week — two short of the record — PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center has plenty of capacity and staff to handle COVID-19 patients and others who need medical care.

Meanwhile, public health officials in Ketchikan are cutting back on daily public COVID-19 reporting. Starting this week, a dashboard on the borough’s website maintained by local nurses at Ketchikan’s state-run public health center will be updated three days per week. It had been reporting Monday through Friday.

Bergen says the change is aimed at freeing up nurses to focus on other jobs.

“The dashboard does take quite a bit of time to update, so we’re spending a lot of nursing time doing that daily. So moving to the Monday-Wednesday-Friday (schedule) is really kind of a reprieve to (let) us focus on our other duties, like COVID response, contact tracing and vaccination,” Bergen said.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services last week also switched to a three-days-a-week reporting schedule for statewide COVID-19 data. State health officials say weekly or monthly data is more useful for understanding trends.

Starting today, Ketchikan residents can pick up free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests at local fire stations. At-home tests are also available from Craig Public Health Center on Prince of Wales Island.

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