Local officials are warning Kodiak residents that the COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly on the island, with 27 new cases reported Monday from tests conducted last week. 

The continued incidence of cases classified as community spread — where the exact source is not from a known positive COVID-19 patient or from travel — has led the Kodiak Emergency Services Council to discuss whether to move the island into a higher risk category, and what that could look like. 

“The plan calls for essential services and critical infrastructure only,” Megan Christiansen, a spokesperson for the Kodiak Emergency Operations Council, said about which businesses would be allowed to stay open if Kodiak changes its risk category from moderate to high. 

However, the ESC has found that community-spread cases occur more often in social gatherings than in the workplace. Officials are discussing how to revise the community’s mitigation plan, and what issues will need to be addressed. 

Christiansen noted that most businesses have strong individual mitigation plans and are following their protocols, such as limiting the number of patrons allowed in a place of business, increasing cleaning protocols and shutting down to quarantine and deep clean if necessary. 

She said enforcing any new pandemic-related rules or guidelines remains challenging.

“It’s difficult to enforce people’s personal and private behavior, and so there is definitely a need for members of the community to recognize that this is a pandemic and it is spreading quickly,” she said. “They need to take some personal responsibility.”

Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center has already decided to move into a higher risk level. The hospital moved into its “red” alert status last Thursday after an influx of patients with COVID-19. 

Four were in the hospital with the virus as of Monday, and three others have been discharged. 

Red means PKIMC has canceled most of its outpatient services, said Amy Corder, the hospital’s incident commander. That allows more staff to work with patients with more serious needs. 

“Therapy, specialty clinics, those things shut down to allow those staff to support the acute care needs that are occurring elsewhere in the hospital,” Corder said. 

“The therapists are working as nurse extenders, helping the nurses do the things they need to do to take care of not just the COVID patients but also the other patients who need care.” 

Red also means that the hospital set up a new wing to serve as an alternative care site. It’s a “minimum care site,” where patients who don’t need intensive treatment can be housed, also freeing up staff to deal with more serious stuff, Corder said. It’s similar to what the hospital created at North Star Elementary in the spring, only smaller. One patient went to the site over the weekend. 

Corder said that PKIMC doesn’t necessarily have a capacity for COVID-19 patients. It all depends on levels of staffing and the severity of the cases. 

The hospital can still send patients that need higher levels of care to Anchorage, but Corder said it’s better for the health system overall to take care of as many patients as possible closer to home. 

“We are trying our best because we know this is happening across the state of Alaska, to take care of the ones that can be kept here,” Corder said. “It keeps them close to family and it also helps stretch the resources across the state.” 

Of the 27 new cases reported in Kodiak on Monday, 15 were tested on Friday and 12 were tests sent off-island to be processed and were received Monday. 

The sources of the cases are still being investigated, said an ESC press release. 

“Due to the holiday weekend, detailed information on these cases is still being obtained. A further update will be provided as soon as the information is available,” said the press release. 

The new cases bring the case count on the island to 303 since the pandemic started, with 82 cases classified as active and 44 removed from the list following the recommended isolation period. 

Meanwhile, Anchorage is due to go into “hunker down” mode on Tuesday, effectively closing in-house dining services and limiting access to public-facing businesses. A surge in COVID-19 cases across the state is straining the public health response and creating a backlog in case and contact investigations. 

The Department of Health and Social Services “is urging anyone who receives a positive test result to notify their own close contacts as soon as possible so individuals can quarantine without delay,” said the ESC press release. 

On Monday, the DHSS reported 481 new cases statewide. No new deaths were reported. 

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