Haines mayor tests positive for COVID-19

Mayor Doug Olerud looks at interim Borough Manager Alleka Fullerton during a press briefing on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Haines, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Haines mayor Douglas Olerud has tested positive for COVID-19. He says he was asymptomatic at first but experienced light symptoms when he went into quarantine over the weekend.

Olerud said he tested positive on Friday after taking a routine rapid test before visiting the Haines SEARHC clinic.

“I was asymptomatic at the time, and so I had no way of knowing,” he said. “So I was glad that they made me test before going inside, so I was able to find out.”

Olerud confirmed that he’s not vaccinated but declined to explain his reasons. He says when he got the positive result, he was worried about getting sick.

“There’s two parts. Part of it is like, OK, I’m gonna have a few days to rest and recover from this,” he said. “Also, there’s a little bit of anxiety. Anytime you get a diagnosis of anything, you’re hoping you’re in the mild symptoms, rather than one of those that needs to be medevacced out of town and into the hospital. So far, luckily enough, I happen to have those lighter symptoms, which I’m very thankful for.”

He said he was isolating for the required five days and experiencing some symptoms.

“I’ve been feeling really good. Friday night, I had a headache and sore throat, and that went through Saturday. But since I woke up on Sunday morning, I’ve been feeling about 90%. So, feeling pretty good and very, very fortunate,” he said.

Haines is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge, with state public health reporting at least 55 new positive cases over the last two weeks, from Jan. 10-24.

Since March 2020, Haines has had 364 reported cases, three hospitalizations and one death. Haines does have a higher than average vaccination rate, with 66% of the eligible population ages five and above having received the first vaccine series. That’s 9% higher than the statewide average. Just over a third of eligible Haines residents had received their boosters as of Jan. 24.

“I think the odds were that I was gonna get it at some point,” Olerud said.

He says he believes this is his second round of COVID, after experiencing some symptoms during the last large COVID-19 outbreak in Haines last August. He said he felt sick at the time but never tested positive.

“But ever since then, I just really haven’t had the level of energy that I’ve normally had,” he said. “And so there’s a possibility that I could have already been having some of those long COVID symptoms, but they didn’t really have a way to test to find out if that was something there or not.”

He says the lingering loss of energy hasn’t prevented him from any daily activities, so he’s not too concerned, but it’s something he’s monitoring.

In addition to mayoral duties, Olerud is co-owner of Olerud’s Market and active in the retail operations there. He said he alerted close contacts immediately.

Olerud said he is able to conduct borough business from home via Zoom, as have other borough employees who have tested positive. That’s excluding the 911 dispatch team who tested positive earlier this month but elected to continue working.

Olerud said he does not have an estimate of the number of borough staff impacted by COVID-19, but so far he says it hasn’t affected borough operations.

“The ones that have gotten it have been able to work off site,” Olerud said. “There were some issues with dispatch, and none of them were sick enough that they weren’t able to come in — and very thankful that they were willing to work through being sick and take extra precautions, locking down the dispatch room and things like that. So they would be able to continue providing that service.”

He says contracting COVID-19 has not significantly changed his thinking or approach about the virus or current community outbreak.

“Each of us has a responsibility to do the best we can, talking to our doctors figuring out what our individual risk is for COVID, and making sure we’re healthy,” Olerud said. “And then on top of that, also remembering that there are a lot of people in our community that might have different health risks than we do personally. And so when we’re making our choices, you obviously look at yourself first, but then we have to look at the community as a whole. And how are our actions impacting those around us and trying to make the best choices to protect the vulnerable people in our community as well.”

Olerud says he plans to isolate until Thursday, and take a rapid COVID-19 test before leaving quarantine.

The Haines Borough Assembly meeting has been moved to Zoom only this week, it’s scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

KHNS - Haines

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