COVID-19 daily update:

 

June 3

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In today’s update, Mayor Steve Prysunka reported that the state will be opening up to outside

travel. It was going to be requested that out of state travellers get tested in their location of origin,

or otherwise get tested at the airport when they land in Alaska.

There was no guidance on how to roll this out, Prysunka said, but Wrangell has reached out to

the state for information. One of the city’s concerns is that there is nothing binding, requiring

people to get tested.

Critical infrastructure workers, however, have to follow stricter guidelines. With this in mind, the

assembly considered a local ordinance requiring out of state visitors to quarantine for two weeks,

or otherwise get tested, upon their arrival in Wrangell. The vote on this ordinance was postponed

until tomorrow evening, and Prysunka said public input is welcome.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen went into some detail about how this testing would look.

Police will be meeting visitors at the airport to help them fill out travel declarations, she said. If

they are from out of state, they will be directed to a tent where a COVID-19 test will be

administered. Otherwise, the traveller can choose to quarantine for two weeks or show proof of

having taken a recent COVID-19 test at their point of origin. The tests taken at the airport in

Wrangell will be sent to a state lab in Anchorage, Von Bargen said, and they expect test results to

come back within 48-hours.

In related news, the city is considering using $60,000 for COVID-19 testing for cannery workers

at Sea Level Seafoods this season. The assembly is scheduled to consider this in a special

meeting tonight, at 5:30 p.m. Prysunka said that this money would come from CARES Act funding

Wrangell recently received. Von Bargen added that they want to make it as easy as possible for

people in the fishing industry to get tested.

Prysunka also wanted to encourage the public to continue to socially distance, wash their hands,

and wear face masks. While the state is reopening, Alaska is seeing an increase in cases. The

risk of COVID-19 is still out there.

May 28

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In a press release yesterday, SEARHC provided an update of community testing numbers. As of yesterday afternoon there have been 506 COVID-19 tests conducted in Wrangell. There are 42 tests still pending results.


In tonight’s update with the borough assembly, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said that the state would be hosting a virtual town hall meeting on economic help for individuals. A town hall for economic help for businesses will be coming up sometime next week. She said that they are expecting upcoming changes to state mandates regarding interstate travel, as well, but she doesn't know what those changes will be at this time. What is anticipated include more robust quarantine requirements for fishermen, as well as additional guidelines for hunting and fishing.

Locally, she said, community-wide testing is going to become available sometime in the near future. More information on this will be coming out soon, she said. To answer a question she has heard from the public, related to community testing, Von Bargen added that persons being incarcerated could not be mandated to take a COVID-19 test unless they are showing clear symptoms.

In other local news, she said that the city is working to put together a list of COVID-related expenses that the recently received CARES Act funding can be used for.

Von Bargen also wanted to address mental health concerns during the pandemic. There is a rise in suicides recently in the midst of the pandemic, she said. The isolation, worries around the pandemic, and other stresses are taking their toll. She wanted to encourage everybody to reach out to one another and provide what support they can.

Borough Clerk Kim Lane reported that about 16 businesses stopped by city hall this afternoon to receive free hand sanitizer that the borough purchased. It was quite successful to get the ball rolling, she said, and there is still hand sanitizer available for any businesses wanting some.

Captain Dorianne Sprehe, with the fire department and emergency operations command, added to the report that the state is not approving or disapproving of large community gatherings, as things reopen. They are only providing some safety and health guidelines. When it comes to large gatherings like the Fourth of July, she said, the state is leaving it up to the communities to do what is best for their situations. Assembly Member Mya DeLong added that the chamber of commerce would be holding special meetings to determine how, and if, Wrangell can go about hosting their Fourth of July celebration.

In some bad news, Sprehe added that there were 13 new cases confirmed in Alaska today. Some of these cases were asymptomatic, she said, so the dangers of COVID-19 are still real. Asymptomatic cases are becoming more frequent, too. She wanted to highly encourage everyone to still be careful and practice good personal hygiene even as things reopen. Moving forward, for the time being, Sprehe said that EMS services would be responding to all calls as if they were “positive screens” just to be safe. This could potentially cause some PPE or personnel shortages.

Mayor Steve Prysunka followed this with some good news. He will be participating in a discussion, following a special assembly meeting tonight, to make further progress on Wrangell’s COVID-19 isolation site. The finalization of this plan is much closer than it was just a few weeks ago, he said.

May 27

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In today’s update, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen spoke about a phone call she was a part of with Senator Dan Sullivan. In that call, she said, Sullivan encouraged anybody in the public having trouble with federal relief programs, such as the PPP, to get in touch with his office. There are a variety of relief programs coming down from the federal government, he said, and a lot of money still available for people or businesses to apply for. Sullivan said he has caseworkers in his office available to help walk people through the application processes.

Another major issue that Wrangell’s emergency operations center has been focusing on, Von Bargen said, is a potential small cruise ship season this summer. A number of communities and the Alaska Municipal League have joined to try and organize a shared list of protocols they and the cruise industry can agree to, to keep everyone safe from COVID-19. The borough assembly recently approved a letter calling for a moratorium on cruise ship sailings in the region until these “shared expectations” can be properly laid out and agreed to.

Von Bargen also said that SEARHC is putting together the final details of a community-wide testing plan. More information will be coming on this topic very soon, she said.

In other news, the borough assembly recently accepted about $3.85 million in CARES Act funding, Von Bargen said. This money can be used by the city to cover unexpected costs incurred by the pandemic. The assembly also approved of a list of various plans that some CARES Act funds could be used for community assistance.

Closing out the update, Von Bargen said that the assembly is constantly looking for “weaknesses” in their protections against the virus. If COVID-19 comes to Wrangell, she said, the city wants to know what areas need to be supported more. One such area, she said, is in ambulances. Wrangell has only two ambulances, she said, and that might not be enough in the event of an outbreak. With this in mind, the city is planning to purchase a new ambulance in a special meeting on Thursday evening.

May 21

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In today’s update, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said she was excited to report that the Nolan Center, Parks and Rec facilities, and the library are preparing to open. The Nolan Center is aiming to open this Tuesday, after Memorial Day. The library will be open to the public on June 1. The community center and swimming pool will be open in early June, as well. She wanted to caution the public that this is not a return to business as normal. Precautions and safety guidelines will still be in place, and she asked everybody to be mindful of that.

It has become apparent, Von Bargen said, that one of the city’s “weak links” in health safety were their ambulances. Wrangell only has two ambulances, she said, and one of them is reserved for responding to “positive screen” calls where COVID-19 is a possibility. Responding to a positive screen call can take several hours, she said, including disinfecting and cleaning them. Over the weekend, she said there were several calls requiring ambulances. With tourism and fishing bringing lots of people into town in the near future, as well, she said it is clear that having only two ambulances is not enough in the current situation. Planning for the next surge or mitigating the current situation is important, she said, so the city is looking into potentially purchasing additional ambulances.

Mayor Steve Prysunka discussed ongoing efforts to establish an isolation site in Wrangell, for asymptomatic patients needing to shelter away from the wider public. Wrangell is looking to use CARES Act money to use one of Trident Seafood’s bunkhouses as a possible site. Progress is being made, he said, and he hopes that the facility will be available within the next few weeks. More news should be coming out by the end of next week, Prysunka added.

Von Bargen also added that she recently received the official grant agreement for Wrangell’s CARES Act funding. It is slightly more than $3.8 million, she said, and the assembly will have the opportunity to review it and approve it in their next meeting.

In other news, Captain Dorianne Sprehe said that the state has recently announced phase three and four of the Reopen Alaska plan. These can be found online for people to review, she said. Some health mandates are still in effect, but Sprehe said several restrictions are being lifted or otherwise relaxed. She added that the city has been looking into potentially conducting COVID-19 tests via the water treatment plant, but there has not been any movement on this plan recently.

Prysunka added that SEARHC will be receiving new testing equipment, and one machine will be coming to Wrangell. This will really help boost local testing capacity, he said.

After the update, the assembly broke into a workshop to discuss Wrangell’s attitudes towards a small ship cruise season, followed by a budget workshop. A write up of this discussion and the budget workshop will be in the next edition of the Wrangell Sentinel.

May 20

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In today’s update, Mayor Steve Prysunka wanted to talk about some of the latest information coming from the state. The governor announced yesterday that, starting on Friday, the last COVID-related restrictions in the state will be lifted. Alaska is open for business, he said. Bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity. Larger gatherings can include non-household members, too. There is talk of getting summer camps opened up for kids, and travel restrictions for everyday citizens are lifted. He said that some restrictions are still in place for critical infrastructure and “essential” work travel.

The state is still encouraging everyone to maintain social distancing and wear face masks, Prysunka pointed out. Locally, the city government is also strongly encouraging everyone to be cautious and take care of themselves. If there is an outbreak, or the spread of the virus worsens, the restrictions will have to be put back in place.

Prysunka also said that he has heard several questions from the community about the Fourth of July. He is in contact with the chamber of commerce, he said, and they are looking into ways to safely host Wrangell’s traditional celebration. More details on this will come out as time goes on. This is still in the discussion stages, he said, but he looks forward to seeing what the chamber decides to do.

There will be a workshop on small cruise ships tomorrow evening, he said. There is talk of cruise lines calling on Wrangell in the near future, he said, so the community needs to sit down and talk about how to handle the situation. He encouraged the public to call in and participate, if they have comments they want to share. This meeting will take place right after Thursday’s COVID-19 update, he said, and will be followed by the city’s ongoing budget workshops.

He also added that the city and SEARHC are working with seafood processors to get together preseason testing for their employees.

Prysunka also said that the city is coming closer to an agreement with Trident Seafoods to use one of their bunkhouses as an alternative isolation site, but no finalized deal has been made yet. He expects more information on that topic to be available in the near future.

COVID-19 updates will be taking place on Wednesdays and Thursdays, moving forward.

May 14

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

In today’s update, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reported that the National Guard would be performing a flyover for Wrangell. The flyover is meant to be a thank you for medical professionals, first responders, and teachers for all their work during this pandemic. The flyover will be at noon tomorrow, and she wanted to thank Tim Buness for helping to organize the event.

There is some delay in communities expecting to receive CARES Act funding, she said, as a lawsuit has been filed against the state. Wrangell was expecting to receive its first payment within the next two weeks, but that is now up in the air. The lawsuit says that the state legislature is not correctly appropriating funds, by handing them out by committee vote rather than a vote of the full legislature. Von Bargen said she has spoken with Representative Dan Ortiz, and they are not sure when things will be cleared up. The money could potentially be used to cover the costs of the Wrangell police department and fire department’s operations during this pandemic, Von Bargen said, going back to March. This could help cover the shortfall the city is expecting in their budget.

Von Bargen sat in on a webinar with the National Association of Counties regarding a proposed $4 trillion relief package for the pandemic. This money could potentially be used for revenue replacement. She said they expect the House of Representatives to vote on it tomorrow. More information regarding this will be coming out in the near future.

In other news, Von Bargen also reported that the city recently acquired 48 one-gallon containers of hand sanitizer. They would be working to get these distributed to local businesses, she said. They are also working to order some containers of bleach solution for the fishing fleet to use in cleaning their vessels and equipment.

In Parks and Recreation news, playgrounds and community shelters are being reopened. The city is not ready to reopen public restrooms yet, she said, but that will be coming in the near future. The guidelines that people are asked to follow can be found on the city’s website.

She also reported that SEARHC would be releasing some news in regards to community-wide testing sometime in the near future. Assembly Member Julie Decker added that the state was going to soon revise Health Mandate 10 to strengthen quarantine requirements for seafood processing workers. Testing capacity has increased in Southeast Alaska, she said, but there are ongoing discussions in regards to logistics and how testing in communities and for the seafood industry would be organized. As far as Wrangell goes, Mayor Steve Prysunka added, the city is better suited than some others to handle industry or community-wide testing.

Decker was part of a meeting for Southeast Alaskan fisheries today. In general, she said it was an effort on behalf of the state to get all of these entities together and on the same page. Realistically, though, she said there was only so much that could be accomplished in a one-hour phone conference. Getting all of these different seafood-related organizations across the region working together was an important first step forward, though.

Borough Clerk Kim Lane said that the state has received around 80 safety plans from seafood processors. They should all be finally reviewed by the end of May, she said.

SEARHC is revising its surge plan, Prysunka reported. They will be bringing it before the borough assembly in their next meeting, he said. The city itself is also still moving forward with preparations for an outbreak of the virus including setting up an isolation site among other plans. Von Bargen added that SEARHC is looking into some of their own alternatives, which may potentially impact the city’s plans for an isolation site. More information will be made available as it becomes available.

May 13

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

According to a press release from SEARHC today there have been 294 COVID-19 tests conducted in Wrangell. There are 30 tests pending results. Over 1,700 tests have been conducted across the entire health consortium in total, according to the press release.

In today’s COVID-19 update, Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reported that the Reopen Wrangell Task Force would be holding a Q&A session via Zoom on Friday, starting at 1 p.m. Details can be received by emailing reopen@wrangell.com or by calling Carol Rushmore at city hall.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen also announced that State Health Mandate 18 has recently come out. This mandate removes any intrastate travel restrictions. Somebody from Wrangell can fly to Fairbanks to visit friends, she gave as an example, or somebody could drive to Haines and then take a ferry to Wrangell. In state, there are no quarantine requirements if they are travelling to the community on the Alaska road system. Anybody travelling for critical workforce needs is required to submit a travel safety and modified quarantine plan, Von Bargen said. Interstate quarantine requirements are still required. Anybody found not following these quarantine requirements could face a $25,000 or a year in jail, she said.

Prysunka also announced a new local website, http://www.wrangellcovid19.org. People can visit this site for information regarding the pandemic, business and travel resources, a FAQ page, and much more. The site will be regularly updated with the latest information, he said.

One of the things they are hearing, Von Bargen said, is that people are foregoing medical checkups and vaccines during the pandemic. Medical facilities had been closed in the early days of the pandemic, she said, but things have opened up now. If someone has a scheduled date for a check up, or have an ongoing illness they want to consult a doctor about, or if their child needs to get a shot, they are encouraged to call the clinic and see about coming in for an appointment. She wanted to encourage everybody to get their medical needs taken care of as other medical issues are not on hold just because of COVID-19.

Prysunka also wanted to share some behind-the-scenes details about how Wrangell is handling the pandemic. Every morning, he said, city officials meet to share information and discuss the newest issues. There are also weekly joint-command meetings between the city, first responders, the tribe, and SEARHC. These meetings look at how resources can be better aligned to protect the community, he said.

May 11

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date. The borough assembly came together for a COVID-19 update prior to a Board of Equalization meeting this evening. During the update, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reported that a formal response to a letter the city forwarded to the state will be coming back soon. She also had a conversation with the Forest Service recently, and reported that all out of state hiring has been frozen. The Wrangell ranger district is looking to hire locally, she said, and are looking to fill seven positions. All applications are handled through http://www.usajobs.com. The application window is closing on May 14.

There were two meetings last Friday regarding the potential for small ship cruises in Southeast Alaska, she continued. It is highly unlikely that there will be any sort of small cruising in the region this year, she said. This is not for certain, she said, but that is how the situation currently looks.

There is a Southeast Fisheries meeting scheduled for Thursday, Von Bargen also mentioned. The state is trying to limit the number of people participating to 70 folks, across several industries. They are hoping for one representative from each area, including processors, ports and harbors, and other fishing-related industries.

Assembly Member Mya DeLong reported that the Reopen Wrangell Taskforce met this afternoon, via Zoom and while socially distancing in the lawn by City Hall. The group is putting together a second newsletter for this week, and added that the first one received over 370 views. A two-sided insert will be going out in the next edition of the Wrangell Sentinel, she also said, with information regarding safety guidelines while shopping and regulations for intrastate travel. On Friday, May 15, there will be some Q&A in the downtown pavilion for businesses and the wider public to receive more information regarding the pandemic and current guidelines. As of May 8, she added, the state is in “phase 2” of reopening. These reopening phases are, in theory, moving forward every two weeks. However, if the pandemic gets worse in Alaska, the phases could be rolled back.

Captain Dorianne Sprehe, with Wrangell’s EOC, gave some information about the city’s EMS process. When an ambulance call is phoned, she said, Wrangell dispatch asks the caller a set of questions related to COVID-19 to give EMS a heads up about how to respond. A “positive screen” means that EMS will respond with different PPE to keep EMS drivers safe. A positive screen does not mean that a patient has COVID-19, she said, it only means he or she may be showing one or more symptoms, and that EMS needs to respond with proper precautions. Mayor Steve Prysunka added that only one particular ambulance is used to respond to positive screen calls. They are doing what they can to limit EMS responders’ potential exposure to COVID-19, where they would have to self-isolate. Wrangell has about a dozen EMS responders available currently, he also said.

Prior to adjourning the update, Assembly Member David Powell asked if the assembly could change the updates from semi-weekly to once a week. Von Bargen said that would be reasonable, they could always add additional meetings as the situation arises. The rest of the assembly largely agreed, and decided that assembly-wide COVID-19 updates would be held on Thursday evenings moving forward.

May 7

There are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen was part of a meeting regarding small cruise sailings this season. State officials, she said, feel that it would be best for local municipalities to work with cruise lines to put together plans for the upcoming cruise season. With this in mind, she said that meetings amongst local communities, and the cruise lines are being scheduled for tomorrow. Currently, Wrangell is down to only one potential cruise ship visit in June, she said.

Last night, the governor released phase 2 of his plan to reopen Alaska. Restaurants can now sit 50 percent of their capacity, and bars can allow 25 percent capacity indoors. Libraries, theaters, and other facilities can reopen under certain guidelines, as well. The city will be releasing a press release on this new information tomorrow, Von Bargen said, as well as Wrangell’s plan to safely continue reopening.

The city’s Economic Development Committee met yesterday. Assembly Member Julie Decker said that they held a discussion on how best to support the community during this pandemic. State and federal support systems are likely going to help people through the summer, she said, but those avenues of assistance are likely going to dry up in the fall and winter. It was mostly a brainstorming session, she said, but they are going to try and put together a concise list of suggestions for the assembly within the coming weeks.

Captain Dorianne Sprehe, with the fire department and Wrangell’s EOC, said that the next phase of the state’s reopening plan will take effect tomorrow, though she knows that does not necessarily mean Wrangell businesses and other facilities will reopen on the same day.

Sprehe and Mayor Steve Prysunka have been working to get written confirmation from Trident Seafoods to use one of their bunkhouses as an alternate COVID-19 isolation site, in the event of a breakout in Wrangell. They are also working with the Red Cross to get training for how to manage such a facility, alongside with other communities. They are also working on obtaining more PPE for the city, particularly reinforcing EMS’s supplies.

Von Bargen wanted to make sure the public was aware of email addresses they could send questions to: masks@wrangell.com, to request face masks from the city; travel@wrangell.com, for any questions regarding travel mitigation plans; and reopen@wrangell.com, for questions or information regarding reopening. The public can expect responses to any questions they send within 48 hours, she said.

The borough assembly also held a discussion, during this update, about what their threshold would be for when local action would be required. Assembly Member Drew Larrabee said that he feels having a single positive case should be the threshold. If one person is positive for COVID-19, they will likely have interacted with several people. The hospital has a capacity for 16 people, he said, and that capacity could fill up quickly. Assembly Member Patty Gilbert said she did not think they could really put a number or percentage on something like this. They need to listen to medical professionals for their opinions on when the city needs to react or put new guidelines in place.

There is no ready-made formula to this, Prysunka said. There are questions of testing availability, the ability to transport patients out of Wrangell for care, region-wide conditions, capacity issues locally and in other towns, and many other aspects to consider. There are too many moving parts to this question, he said, there is not a good way to put together hard numbers or a step by step plan of what to do if the virus comes to town. However, he also said he felt that it is easier for a small community to get overwhelmed than a big community. He also said he was “grossly disappointed” in how industries, he mentioned the seafood industry in particular, have monopolized how the state puts together mandates and pushes them out to the local communities. Local control needs to be maintained, he said, and keep everybody safe. He doesn’t want the only option to be additional mandates, he said, he wants Wrangell to be proactive in keeping everybody safe.

Decker pointed out that only about one in 10 people are being hospitalized for COVID-19, if they are infected. Statewide there have been 374 cases of the virus, she said, but only 38 total hospitalizations. Local and state teams will be continuously watching these numbers, she said, and the city should keep that information in mind when considering Wrangell’s local capacity. Decker also said she felt it was unfair for the mayor to say the seafood industry has more say in state guidelines than local communities. She also said, however, that she completely agrees with Prysunka that Wrangell needs to be proactive. She wanted to advocate for additional testing through town.

Gilbert reiterated that the city’s “comfort level” needed to be up to the information and opinions of medical professionals. She also said she wanted the city to make sure the safe relocation for Long Term Care residents was part of whatever plans the city puts in place. Von Bargen said that they are, in fact, working on such a plan. If all 16 beds in the hospital’s surge plan were filled with COVID patients, she also said supplies of PPE would last less than two days.

Larrabee jumped into the discussion again to say that, while putting hard numbers and set in stone plans in place was impossible right now, he was sure the assembly would have a serious discussion about what next steps to take if and when that first positive case comes to Wrangell. Based on the circumstances of that situation, he said they would be able to more properly react. Assembly Member Anne Morrison agreed, the city’s reaction to COVID-19 very much depends on the circumstances of that first case. Prysunka agreed that having that discussion should, and would, take place. Getting a set in stone plan in place right now was likely premature. Aside from trying to secure extra beds or PPE for the hospital, he said, there was not too much they could do to increase their capacity. If the hospital reports that they are getting overwhelmed by COVID cases, he said the assembly would come together as a body to consider their options, especially if it feels like Wrangell is being overlooked at the state level.

The discussion continued for some time. As this was a work session for the assembly, no formal action was taken. It was generally agreed upon, however, that the city would continue trying to prepare as best they can, but to wait for the first positive case to come to town before discussing what the next steps should be. Decker wanted to make sure the public understood that the city was not operating without a plan, they were all taking part in regular meetings and were part of different committees working to gather information and better understand the pandemic and how to prepare for it.

Von Bargen added that there are many city employees and other Wrangellites involved in this, too, not just the assembly. She added that the next COVID-19 update will be on Monday evening, followed by an assembly meeting on Tuesday night.

May 6

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date. Yesterday, SEARHC

released their latest weekly test numbers for several Southeast Alaskan communities. In

Wrangell, a total of 155 tests have been conducted as of this week. Of these, seven are still

pending results. In total SEARHC has run 1,063 COVID-19 tests across the health consortium.

In other news, Mayor Steve Prysunka reported that the COVID-19 updates he and Borough

Manager Lisa Von Bargen are doing will be scaled back moving forward. Instead of hosting

updates every weekday, they would be holding updates three days a week. Prysunka said they

did not currently have enough information to share to make daily updates worthwhile. They have

been repeating themselves quite a bit in previous updates, he said. Moving forward, for the time

being, updates can be expected on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

As of today, he added, he would also no longer be reporting that there are no COVID cases in

Wrangell on Facebook daily. It would be easier for everyone to simply go to the city website for all

local information regarding the pandemic. He encouraged everyone to sign up for Nixle, a

program that will send an email or text message to Wrangellites if the city needs to post an

important update. Of course, he also added, local media will be notified of any important COVID-

related information as soon as possible.

Von Bargen discussed some of the finer details of recent state mandates, and how they impact

travelling. The statewide travel mandate restricting intrastate travel has been lifted for the road

system, she said, not for travel between communities not on the road system. Travel by plane or

by boat to Wrangell for noncritical business is still technically not allowed. An update is expected

at the end of this week, she said, but this is how things currently stand.

Prysunka also said that it is exciting that spring is here, and restrictions are starting to be lifted.

However, he said that the only reason restrictions are being lifted is because people across the

state have done a very good job of following guidelines and staying healthy. If this starts to turn

around, restrictions could return. As such, both he and Von Bargen said it was very important to

maintain social distancing and personal hygiene even as things open back up. At the end of the

day, Prysunka said, everybody wants to get back to normal.

May 4

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

Prior to a special meeting of the borough assembly tonight, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen provided a daily COVID-19 update. Wrangell can expect to receive $3.81 million in CARES funding, she reported, which is slightly higher than the $3.6 million she previously reported. This money will go towards helping Wrangell recover, financially, from any downturns the city sees from the pandemic. More information regarding this money, and how it can be used, will be coming in the near future. Wrangell also recently received a $35,000 COVID mitigation grant, she announced. This was unexpected, but she said it is coming from state CPV funds, and she said they will be organizing a plan for how to use these funds. Not related to the pandemic, she also said that the state was going to set aside $20,000 for renovations to the Wrangell airport.

Assembly Member Mya DeLong also reported on a meeting of the Reopen Wrangell Task Force, earlier this afternoon. A survey the task force put out to businesses around town has come back, she said. The majority of businesses in town have basic sanitation and health equipment on hand, such as masks and gloves for employees. There is some need for hand sanitizer, she said, which they are looking into. She also reported that they would be releasing a newsletter within the next few days. They are also trying to organize a large Zoom meeting for local businesses to host a roundtable to discuss their needs and future plans.

Leatha Merculieff, representing the Wrangell Medical Center and SEARHC, shared with the assembly that they are staying in “ready mode.” Testing for hospital employees for COVID-19 began today, she said, and that she and Dr. Lynn Prysunka were two of the first to get tested. Weekly meetings with city officials are ongoing, she said, as are weekly press releases to the wider public. In other news, she also added that construction of the new hospital is still on schedule. Dr. Prysunka added that there is a steadily increasing number of tests available. She is not sure if they have enough for everybody who would want one when they want it, she said, but they do have a good supply of tests on hand.

Dr. Debbe Lancaster, superintendent for the Wrangell School District, also reported they are working to put together a plan for students, should their parents or guardians become sick with COVID-19.

Assembly Member Julie Decker announced that there would be an Economic Development Committee meeting on Wednesday, May 6.

In tonight’s assembly meeting, the borough assembly considered three COVID-related agenda items: Approval to forward a health care capacity letter from the Wrangell Medical Center to the governor’s office and DHSS, approval of a proposed new section to the Marine Service Center Yard User Agreement, and approval of the establishment of an alternative COVID-19 isolation site. A full story of the assembly meeting will be printed in the upcoming edition of the Wrangell Sentinel.

May 1

There are no cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen wanted to report that there will be a special assembly meeting next Monday evening. Von Bargen said that there are three COVID-19 related items on the agenda: A discussion of a letter from the Wrangell Medical Center, regarding healthcare capacity, and whether or not to forward that letter to the governor’s office and the department of health and social services, approval of the proposed addition to the Marine Service Center User Agreement, and the establishment of a potential alternative COVID-19 isolation site. A full agenda for the meeting can be found on the city’s website, http://www.wrangell.com. The meeting is scheduled to begin right after the Monday COVID-19 update, which will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Prysunka also wanted to discuss the issue of releasing travel safety and hazard mitigation plans the city is receiving. Some people and businesses are voluntarily supplying plans to the city regarding how they plan to safely travel and keep others safe from the virus while going about their job. These plans are given to the city on a voluntary basis, Von Bargen clarified, but are required to go to the state. She also added that the city has voluntarily received 21 plans. Any plans the city receives are in an interim stage and are not finalized. If Wrangell were to release such a plan, she said, prior to it being finalized it would cause confusion amongst the public about what is actually going on. The state department of law has also sent a cease and desist letter to the state emergency operations center to stop them from sending any finalized plans to local municipalities, she said, as there has been a legal challenge. Wrangell has not received any finalized plans from the state at this time, and she added that the state is dealing with a backlog of safety plans needing approval. As such, Von Bargen said that they are not planning to release any plans they have at this time to the media or the public. They are still being processed by the state, she said, and they do not know where Wrangell-specific plans are in the review process.

April 30

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

The city issued a press release today reporting that some facilities will be reopening in the near future. Starting May 6, city hall, municipal light and power, the solid waste department, the harbor department, the police department, and capital facilities will be open to the public. Other city facilities, such as the library, Nolan Center, and others, will remain closed for the time being. Anybody entering these buildings are required to wear face masks. Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reported that the DMV will be remaining closed, as well, but this is not related to COVID-19. The employee running the DMV recently retired, she said, and the replacement employee has not been able to leave town for training due to the virus.

In other news, Von Bargen said that the city is allowing a deferment of quarterly sales tax payments until the end of June. This is meant to be a cash flow assistance to businesses that have had to close due to the virus. She also reported that she will be part of a meeting on May 5 to discuss small cruise ship sailings.

The Reopen Wrangell Task Force has printed out posters for local businesses to display, Von Bargen said, to explain to employees what they should do before going out shopping: Wear a face mask, stay six feet apart, and follow other safety guidelines.

She also brought up some conflicting guidelines coming down from the state. Mandate 12, regarding intrastate travel, is still in effect, Von Bargen said. Travel within Alaska is only allowed for critical workforce needs or critical personal needs. Attachments to Mandate 16, however, allow for recreational “day travel.” Locally, this means that so long as people can follow the mandate and not stay overnight, people could travel to Wrangell for outdoor recreation such as hiking or golf. Attachment N of Mandate 16, regarding social gatherings, says that the limit of public gatherings has increased from 10 to 20. The attachment also says that persons can travel by plane to attend such gatherings, which seems to conflict with the “critical” requirements to travel. This seems counterintuitive to Mandate 12, Von Bargen said. Attachment L to Mandate 16 prescribes how hotels, B&B’s, and other rentals like that should operate. This information seems pretty conflicting, Von Bargen admitted, and said it is hard to provide assistance to the public when state mandates are unclear. Questions on clarifying these conflicting mandates have yet to be answered as of today’s update.

Von Bargen said she heard from SEARHC that businesses have the ability to request COVID-19 testing for their employees. For example, if a commercial fishing vessel wanted to get its crew tested, they could request such tests from the medical center. More information regarding this will be released sometime next week, she said.

Captain Dorianne Sprehe, with the Wrangell Fire Department, said that they are looking at potential alternative shelters, in the event the virus spreads to Wrangell and the medical center meets its surge capacity. They have a verbal agreement to use one of Trident Seafood’s bunkhouses, she said, but there is no formal agreement yet. Planning and organizing is still ongoing. Sprehe also said that it is a good idea to regularly check the state website for updates to health mandates. Updates or modifications to the mandates are not typically publicly announced, she said.

April 29

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date. SEARHC released their weekly test numbers for the community earlier this morning. According to their press release, there have been 135 tests completed in Wrangell so far. Of these, five are pending results. SEARHC has performed a total of 841 COVID-19 tests across their entire consortium as of this date.

During today’s daily update Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen continued their discussions about recent state health mandates. Attachment M of Mandate 16, Von Bargen said, relates to intrastate travel and outdoor activities. Intrastate travel is allowed under the attachment, she said, for day activities only. For example, people can travel to Wrangell to play golf so long as it is a day-trip and they do not stay the night. Only members of the same family can be in your car or on your boat when travelling, she also pointed out, and gathering size limits and social distancing regulations are followed. Face masks should also be worn in mixed-household gatherings, and everyone in the gathering should regularly sanitize their hands. There are several other guidelines, Von Bargen said, that people can read in the mandate.

Attachment N to the mandate covers religious gatherings and being in public places. The gathering limit has been increased from 10 to 20, Von Bargen said, but individuals frequenting businesses need to follow all typical guidelines: Social distancing, wearing face masks, and other precautions. This applies for gatherings like small weddings, religious services, or even a beach bonfire with friends. All these precautions are important, she said, because the safer everyone is now, the quicker things can reopen in the future.

Prysunka said he’d heard from a family with a graduating high school senior, asking about whether or not relatives who wanted to come into town for graduation would have to quarantine. As of right now, he said, travel is not supposed to be allowed for people who are not part of the critical workforce or who have critical personal needs. He does not believe that a graduation ceremony qualifies for either. Von Bargen added that day-recreation travel was also allowed, but again said that overnight stays were still prohibited.

April 28

There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date.

Mayor Steve Prysunka used the daily update today to say he was pleased that the state was slowly starting to reopen the economy, and that he was happy with the work the Reopen Wrangell Taskforce has been doing to see how the city can support local businesses opening back up. He also wanted to talk about the community’s responsibilities regarding the plan to reopen. It is important to remember that “flattening the curve” does not mean keeping the number of cases in Wrangell at zero. The city is anticipating that the virus will spread to Wrangell eventually, he said, but people need to do their part to limit that spread. If there are too many cases coming into the hospital at the same time, the hospital will get overwhelmed.

Even if businesses are reopening and restrictions are starting to be loosened, Prysunka said people still need to socially distance, wear face masks, and do their part to keep those around them safe. Using hand sanitizer and cleaning work stations are important as well. There is no need to panic if or when the virus comes to Wrangell, he said, but we all need to work together to keep the number low.

There is a borough assembly meeting scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m.. Prysunka encouraged everyone to tune in.

April 27

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this date. However, there are reports of a third confirmed case of the virus in Petersburg.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen talked about the new state mandates 16 and 17, regarding reopening Alaska’s economy and safety guidelines for independent commercial fishing vessels. She said to expect future modifications to these and other mandates, depending on new information coming in as businesses begin to reopen and the state sees what is feasible to expect.

The Reopen Wrangell Taskforce held a meeting today, according to Assembly Member Mya DeLong. They were discussing a survey they’ve sent out to local businesses to see what their priorities for reopening are, and how they could provide support to Wrangell’s economy and various industries. Von Bargen complimented the task force for working so hard.

The mandate for a two-week quarantine for people traveling into Alaska has been extended to May 16, Von Bargen said. The allowance of group sizes has been extended from 10 to 20, too. Both of these do not really allow for small cruise ship sailings, Von Bargen said, but that is likely to change in the near future. Von Bargen said she is in contact with several community leaders to discuss what Wrangell can do to prepare for cruise season.

The city has also been in talks with the Forest Service, Alaska Crossings, and Sea Level Seafoods regarding plans to bring in seasonal workers. Sea Level Seafoods is working hard to hire locally, but they are not sure how much of their workforce this will cover. The Forest Service has rescinded all offers of employment to people outside Alaska, she said, and the Crossings program is planning to reopen as of July 1. These conversations are ongoing, Von Bargen.

Von Bargen also said that Wrangell might be eligible for CARES Act funding. This money could potentially be used to cover costs directly incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. This potential money would need to be spent by December, she said, so the assembly needs to sit down soon and have a serious discussion in the near future. More information regarding this possibility will be coming in soon, she said.

In other news, Von Bargen added that work is being done on a new section to the marine yard user agreement, which would lay out safety guidelines along state mandate 17, plus a few additions that are nominal for Wrangell. This is still being revised, she said.

There are also public concerns about people not wearing face masks out in public, she said. She wanted to encourage everyone to not get “COVID fatigue” and stay vigilant against the virus. The assembly might want to consider putting together a “mask mandate” similar to one recently passed by Petersburg, she brought up. DeLong said that it would be a good idea to get everybody in town on the same page, and suggested that local businesses put up signage encouraging people to wear masks.

Assembly Member Julie Decker also added that United Fishermen of Alaska would be holding a free webinar on Mandate 17, on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

April 24

There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today.

In today’s daily update, Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen discussed the recent passage of state mandates, which is the first phase of the governor’s plan to reopen Alaska’s economy. Different businesses have been given the go-ahead to begin reopening, Von Bargen said, but there is some question of what this means for businesses and wider Alaskan communities.

Restaurants can take reservations for in-building dining, she said. Seating capacity is limited to 25 percent.

The mandate has also allows for gatherings of 20 people, rather than 10, so long as social distancing is still observed.

Retail and personal care establishments are also able to open, following their own public safety guidelines. Only one member of a household at a time is allowed in retail businesses, for example, and reservations are required for personal care businesses like barber shops. Gyms and fitness centers are only allowed to host outdoor activities, Von Bargen said.

It is very important everyone continue to follow social distancing and health safety recommendations, she said. Better safety practices are even more important now that it is possible for businesses to begin reopening including wearing face masks when out in public, socially distancing, and doing whatever is possible to “flatten the curve.” Staying safe will help get the economy and life, in general, back to normal much faster.

Prysunka also wanted to remind everyone to focus on their health in more ways than avoiding COVID-19. The clinic is still taking patients and meeting with patients over video, he said. Mental health is also important and he encouraged people to de-stress, get some fresh air, and take care of themselves. He also wanted to remind the public that an assembly-wide update will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

April 23

As of today, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell.

Governor Mike Dunleavy’s latest mandates will allow businesses to slowly reopen starting tomorrow, in the first phase in a statewide plan to get Alaska’s economy safely moving again. Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said Mandate 16 allows restaurants, personal care businesses, and other businesses to open with limited capacity and other safety guidelines. In Mandate 16 was also a “local preemption,” she said, which means that the mandate supersedes all current and future mandates from local municipalities that might conflict with it. This conflicts with what the governor has been saying, Von Bargen said, who has touted understanding that reopening Alaska is not a “one size fits all” situation. However, as of today, she said that the local preemption has been removed. If a local municipality wants to put something in place that may conflict with the state mandate, she said, it will need to be run by the state first.

During this daily update, several members of the borough assembly commented that they’ve heard from several business owners around town, and some of them do not yet feel comfortable reopening. Von Bargen said that should businesses decide it is not yet time to reopen, the city should do what it can to support them in that decision. Assembly Member Mya DeLong said reopening is going to look different for every business, as is the best way to move forward.

Von Bargen also said that Wrangell is nearing a period of time when travellers are more likely to visit. She wanted to clarify that the state mandate regarding interstate travel does not ban travel into Alaska, it only requires a two-week quarantine. Mayor Steve Prysunka said he had heard that Canada was blocking the travel of pleasure boats through their waters, so he was confused about how sail boats or yachts could make it up to Wrangell. Von Bargen said she would look into that and try to get some clarification.

In other news, Von Bargen said Wrangell has seen some enforcement issues regarding an out-of-town fishing vessel not following quarantine or health safety guidelines. She said that the Wrangell Police Department has been in contact with this fisherman, who she did not name. She was unaware of the outcome from that conversation currently, she said, but she understood that it was a friendly discussion.

Von Bargen also reported that a planned ordinance proposal, scheduled for discussion in next Tuesday’s assembly meeting, will need to be removed as it is not quite ready yet.

DeLong also provided a report on Wrangell’s economic recovery committee, which just held their first meeting. As chair of this committee, she said that their first step will be to put out a survey to local businesses to see how they stand, what they need, and to see what priorities the wider public has regarding economic recovery. This survey will be coming out soon sometime tomorrow. It was a good meeting, she said, and there are a lot of great minds working together on the committee. They are also officially naming the group the “Reopen Wrangell Taskforce.”

Prysunka also reported that he heard from Ketchikan that the Cruise Line Industry of America is in talks with the CDC to allow for large-ship sailings into Alaska this summer, with ships at 50 percent capacity. He has asked the state for further information regarding this, but has not heard back on anything yet. This is something he is concerned about, he said, as even a half-full large cruise ship would bring a lot of people into town.

Closing out the meeting, Von Bargen said that guidelines state that anyone who passes away, currently, must be considered a potential carrier of COVID-19. As such, they are required to place these bodies in a separate location.

“The other mandate that came down, my understanding, and Mayor correct me if I’m wrong, anybody that passes away currently has to be considered a potential for COVID and has to be stored separately,” she said. “So we had to come up with a plan for an alternative morgue. That was the purchase of a refrigerator van.”

Prysunka added that his wife, Dr. Lynn Prysunka, confirmed that anyone who passes away needs to be considered a potential COVID carrier, and that the refrigerator van will be coming in sometime tomorrow.

April 22

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today. Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen met today for their regular daily update.

According to the governor’s press briefing last night, Prysunka said, Governor Mike Dunleavy feels that Alaska is nearing a point where reopening is feasible. However, precautions still need to be taken. State Health Mandate 10, on interstate travel, has been extended until mid-May. Mandates 11, social distancing, and 12, intrastate travel, have been extended until further notice, Prysunka said.

Von Bargen said that restaurants will soon be able to open to limited dine-in service, meaning only a certain percentage of a restaurant’s capacity can be filled at a time. Other regulations include needing to make a reservation, only sitting with other members of one’s household, and maintaining proper social distancing from other customers. These reopenings are voluntary, Prysunka said, so business owners that do not feel like reopening is a good idea are not going to be forced to do so.

Hair salons, barbers, massage parlors, and other facilities like that will also be allowed to open soon, the mayor added. Again, limited customer numbers, appointment requirements, and social distancing are important.

The mayor and Borough Manager said that fishing charters will also be allowed with limited capacity on the boats. Gyms and fitness centers will be able to hold outdoor activities. The limit on gatherings has been increased from 10 to 20, but social distancing recommendations still apply.

Von Bargen reiterated that out-of-state travellers are required to quarantine for two weeks. In-state travellers do not have a quarantine requirement, but do need to submit travel safety and modified quarantine plans.

Prysunka also wanted to remind everyone that it is a good idea to wear a face mask. Masks can be ordered from the city by emailing masks@wrangell.com or calling the Irene Ingle Public Library.

Tomorrow’s daily update will take place before the entire borough assembly meeting at 5:30 p.m.

April 21

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today. SEARHC announced local testing numbers in a press release this morning. There have been a total of 77 COVID-19 tests conducted in Wrangell. Maegan Bosak, representing SEARHC, said in an email to the Sentinel that the majority of these tests have come back negative, and about 15 are still pending results.

According to the state’s website, there have only been over 20 tests completed. Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said that the state’s test numbers for Wrangell are incorrect. Wrangell is doing a very good job as far as getting tested, she said. SEARHC will be releasing weekly updates of test numbers moving forward.

Von Bargen also wanted to talk about proper sanitation etiquette during the pandemic. When it comes to disposing of materials like wet wipes, these are not flushable. She wanted to remind everyone to only flush waste and toilet paper. Other materials need to go in the trash. These items can damage the city’s sewage system. In other hygiene related news, Von Bargen also wanted to remind everyone to wash their face masks regularly.

She also said that the governor was planning to make a series of announcements regarding new mandates and plans to reopen Alaska’s economy tonight in a briefing. She said this briefing can be found at livestream.com/govdunleavy, starting at 5 p.m. She encouraged everyone to tune in to watch the briefing.

April 20

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today. Mayor Steve Prysunka reported that they have received total local testing numbers from SEARHC. According to the mayor, there have been a total of 69 COVID-19 tests conducted in Wrangell. Of these, 61 have come back negative and eight are still pending. Moving forward, SEARHC will be providing local numbers on a weekly basis.

“That’s important because it goes to show that we have no cases here, and that’s not because we’re not testing,” Prysunka said. "It’s because we’re doing the right things.”

In today’s borough assembly update, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen reported that there is likely going to be an extension of the interstate travel quarantine mandate, from the state government. In-state, she said, people have been doing a good job of “flattening the curve,” but the state is still worried about letting other people into Alaska.

Guidance regarding the reopening of retail businesses will be coming down from the state level in the near future, as well. The governor has also indicated that he wants to work closely with local communities when it comes to reopening the economy. This is not a “one size fits all” situation, she said, and the governor seems to understand that.

Mandates regarding independent fishing vessels is also coming down the pipeline.

Locally, Von Bargen said that she is putting together a proposal for guidelines for health safety in the marine yard. The assembly will get to take a look at this proposal in the near future. In regard to people and businesses voluntarily providing Wrangell with their travel and modified quarantine plans, she said that the city has received 19 so far. The closure of city offices has been extended until May 1, she also reported, but they will fall in line with whatever mandates come down from the state.

Prysunka added that they have organized an Economic Development Committee to help advise city officials on how to move forward out of the pandemic. City Clerk Kim Lane also informed the assembly that this week was Volunteer Recognition week, and she wanted to say thank you to all of the volunteers on the fire department and EMS service.

April 17

As of today, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell. The Southeast Alaska Health Consortium reported that, as of yesterday, they have conducted 459 COVID-19 tests across the entire consortium. Of these, 51 are still pending and four have come back positive.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen announced that she heard from the state emergency operations center that there is a new symptom of the virus. Young people, she said, can develop a rash if they have the virus. That is something to watch out for as a potential sign of infection. It is not a confirmation, she clarified, but it is a possibility.

Mayor Steve Prysunka announced the formation of a task force for economic recovery in Wrangell. The task force will be chaired by Assembly Member Mya DeLong, and will be made up of representatives from a wide variety of Wrangell organizations. Dale Parkinson will represent community members, Caitlin Cardinell will represent the Economic Development Committee, Chris Buness will represent the convention and visitor’s bureau, Stephanie Cook will represent the chamber of commerce, Carol Rushmore will represent city staff, and a tribal representative will be determined by the Wrangell Cooperative Association in the near future. This task force will be meeting regularly to determine what steps need to be taken to safely reopen Wrangell’s economy and slowly get things back to normal. The task force will advise the administration on what the best options will be. Von Bargen added that while the task force will be providing advice, Wrangell will still be subject to state health mandates.

Prysunka also reported that he was part of a phone conference with Alaskan mayors, the governor, and other state officials. For the most part, he said, many Alaskan communities share the same concerns about protecting the public, and when to start opening up. The governor’s intent, he said, is for communities to have a lot of say about when and how they start reopening, and to keep them informed. To that end, they will be sending all travel plans submitted by critical workforce infrastructure to their respective communities.

A draft plan for a mandate regarding independent fishing vessels has been reviewed and submitted to the state attorney general, Von Bargen added. They will be staying in tune to learn more about this mandate.

Closing out the daily update, Prysunka said that it is very good news that Wrangell still has no confirmed cases, and congratulated the community for being so careful with state and local health recommendations. He urged everyone to avoid becoming complacent, however, as there is still a real risk of the virus spreading.

April 16

The Wrangell Borough Assembly held their second of ongoing biweekly COVID-19 updates tonight, shortly before a special assembly meeting to vote on the borough’s local contribution to the school district.

As of today, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen and Mayor Steve Prysunka said they were in a conversation with the Alaska Municipal League today, and they have received over 2,000 travel plans from people and businesses. There is a backlog, she said, but once AML gets through them they will send the appropriate plans to the communities involved in the travel plans.

Carol Rushmore, economic development director for Wrangell, informed the assembly that she has released an updated cruise schedule. However, she said that this list is still subject to a lot of change. Ports in Seattle and Canada have closed, and the CDC has put passenger limits on what ships are allowed to sail. Smaller American flag cruise ships, however, may be able to sail this summer. This is still subject to change and is at the discretion of each cruise line, she said. All in all, a lot of new information will be coming out in the following weeks.

Kate Thomas, parks and rec director for Wrangell and part of a local committee reviewing local travel plans, said that Wrangell has received about 16 voluntary travel plans. Of these, 13 have been reviewed. Many people sending in their plans have been receptive to comments, she said, and everyone is wanting to do their part to keep Wrangell as safe as possible during this pandemic.

Dorianne Sprehe, firefighter and Wrangell’s emergency operations director, provided the assembly a quick update on new state mandates 14 and 15. These can be found online at http://www.covid19.alaska.gov. Sprehe also said that Wrangell recently sent over supplies to Petersburg, on April 8, to help them set up alternate sites to help them prepare for their surge plan. These supplies included blankets, hygiene supplies, and other necessities.

April 15

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of this time.

In last night’s assembly meeting, the borough assembly heard from various community members about how their organizations are preparing for an outbreak. Organizations represented included the hospital, school district, and fire department.

They also heard public comments from various community members urging the assembly to consider reopening and getting back to normal. Mayor Steve Prysunka said that, in response to these comments, they will be putting together a committee to review an economic recovery plan in the near future.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen also added that she is putting together a proposal for sales tax remittance for businesses, which she plans to show to the assembly soon.

In statewide news, Prysunka said that the governor has lifted a ban on elective surgeries across Alaska.

Curbside pickup and home delivery of alcohol is also being allowed, as well.

Von Bargen wanted to take the opportunity, to take the daily update, to clarify some things. The borough can not lift any shelter in place restrictions, she said, as there is a statewide mandate they have no say over. When it comes to reopening businesses, she said, that will have to be a state decision. During this time, however, she pointed out that businesses that can operate while maintaining social distancing can continue to do so.

Von Bargen also wanted to remind everyone who is wearing a homemade, cloth face mask, to wash it thoroughly before wearing it for the first time. It is also important to sanitize one’s hands regularly before taking face masks on or off.

Prysunka also added, for anybody looking for work during this time, that Sea Level Seafoods is looking to hire local seasonal workers.

April 14

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell, as of today’s daily update. Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen gave a quick summary of recent events regarding a withdrawn ordinance the assembly had recently considered. The assembly was wanting to pass an emergency requiring, among other things visitors provide the city with travel safety and modified quarantine plans. However, state regulations do not allow Wrangell to take a step that far. On the bright side, Von Bargen added, several people have voluntarily been supplying Wrangell with their travel plans. Plans are only approved by the state, she said, but any guidance the city provides is simply advice.

On the topic of critical travel, Mayor Steve Prysunka said he heard from Wrangell’s veterinarian Dr. Judge Conniff, that he intends to come back to town in the near future.

Prysunka also wanted to share a reminder from Captain Dorianne Sprehe, with the Wrangell Fire Department, that it is important for people to regularly clean and disinfect their homes and any hard surfaces to keep any risk of being exposed to COVID-19 as low as possible. As much as people hate house cleaning, Von Bargen added, dusting is very important, too.

The Wrangell Borough Assembly will be having a meeting tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. Agenda items include a public hearing on a modification to a contract zone agreement, and approval of a contract for procuring summer floats for City Dock. There will also be another COVID-19 update during the meeting from other city officials

April 13

The borough assembly met for their first of ongoing biweekly work sessions regarding COVID-19 tonight, at 5:30 p.m. Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen have been providing daily updates to the local media, but at the request of assembly members they have added assembly-wide meetings to the calendar.

During the update, Von Bargen confirmed that Wrangell does not meet state requirements to be a “small community,” a status the community would have to meet to install any travel ordinances that go beyond current state restrictions. However, she added that the city is researching different means of installing travel restrictions, and that other communities who also do not meet the state’s “small community” definition are moving forward with guidelines of their own. The city is currently researching different means of putting in local travel guidelines, she said. Von Bargen wanted to address some rumors, she said, in that the proposed guidelines they were considering were meant to give the city power to close the harbors. This is untrue, she said, the city only wants to ensure that travel safety plans and modified quarantine plans are being followed by intrastate travelers, to keep Wrangell as safe as possible. There are many people and businesses coming in and out of town, she said, beyond just the fishing industry.

There was nothing intended to exclusively impact the fishing industry and close the harbors, she said. Among the recently proposed plans Wrangell considered in their dropped emergency ordinance was a requirement that travel plans submitted to the state also be provided to Wrangell. While this is not a requirement, she said that several people with travel plans in and out of Wrangell have submitted their

plans for review. As of last Friday they had received six travel plans, she said, and four have been reviewed so far.

Von Bargen also provided some information regarding the tourism industry. American Cruise Lines, she said, have talked about their desire to begin sailing in June and July. Projected traveller numbers are low, she said, and the city will be in communication with the cruise line to see what their future plans are.

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell at this time. Daily updates to the media will continue on a regular basis. Assembly-wide updates will take place every Monday and Thursday evening.

April 10

In last evening’s workshop, the Wrangell Borough Assembly decided that they will host regular meetings to ensure everybody is on the same page regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting next week, each Monday and Thursday at 5:30, the assembly will meet for updates and discussion of the current situation in Wrangell. These new biweekly updates will replace the daily updates the mayor and Borough Manager have been supplying to the media on these days.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen said that, during last night’s workshop, the assembly also asked her to move forward on implementing guidelines regarding health safety and travel guidelines for the marine yard, as well as to see what other actions the borough can legally take at the local level. There are a number of ways they are trying to enforce stricter travel and quarantine requirements locally, she said, that are currently being researched. Mayor Steve Prysunka added that they are taking a close look at what other communities are doing, and seeing what Wrangell could mimic.

Von Bargen also added that there were some new health mandates issued from the state government. Schools are now closed for the remainder of the academic year, she said. The Anchorage Daily News reported, she added, that heavy breathing can cause COVID-19 to spread further through the air. So, when out exercising and breathing heavy, it is recommended a distance of 20 feet be kept between persons, instead of the usual 6 feet, and to wear a mask while running.

In other news, Prysunka said that the Wrangell Medical Center was expecting to receive three new ventilators. However, they were co opted by FEMA to be sent to a community that needed them more. Of the three ventilators the hospital currently has, he said, two of them are really meant only for short-term use. Not receiving these new ventilators, he said, was certainly disappointing. Von Bargen added that social distancing is really the main way to keep the virus from spreading through the community. She wanted to thank everybody for avoiding each other, self-quarantining, and for wearing masks in public.

As of today, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell.

April 9

In last evening’s reconvening of the borough assembly, new information delayed the passage of a proposed emergency ordinance. The emergency ordinance would have established various safety and quarantine guidelines for intrastate travelers who come to Wrangell. However, state guidelines say that only “small communities” could make local rulings regarding travel. As it turns out, according to the state’s definition, Wrangell is not one of these small communities. Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen explained in today’s daily update that the Wrangell Medical Center, by the state’s definition, is a “hub hospital.” This is the item that disqualifies Wrangell from being a small community.

In response to this new information, the proposed ordinance was dropped. The assembly decided to hold a work session tonight, at 5:30 p.m., to determine what their next steps should be. There will be no public comments nor action taken during this workshop, Von Bargen said, but she encouraged people to tune into radio station KSTK to listen. She also encouraged everyone to continue social distancing and wearing face masks while out in public.

April 8

Mayor Steve Prysunka provided the daily update by himself today, as Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen was occupied preparing for a borough assembly meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. tonight. This will be a reconvening of a meeting last Monday, where the assembly was considering local restrictions and guidelines for travellers coming to town. The state has no self-quarantine rule for in-state travellers, Prysunka said, but some communities that meet various standards are allowed to make their own regulations regarding it. These requirements include having a population of less than 3,000, being off of the road system, and not having a tribal “hub hospital.” There was some question of whether or not the Wrangell Medical Center counted as a hub hospital in the last meeting, but Prysunka said he hopes this will be cleared up in tonight’s meeting.

In other news, Prysunka reported that the hospital will soon be receiving a rapid-test machine in the near future. This device will help increase the speed at which COVID-19 test results can be confirmed, from a multi-day process to less than a day. The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has received several of these machines, he said, and Wrangell will be getting one of them.

In other news, the mayor wanted to remind everyone that there are several community members who are spending their time making face masks. Anybody who would like to request a mask can contact the city, either by calling the Irene Ingle Public Library or emailing masks@wrangell.com.

April 6

There are no reported cases of COVID-19 in Wrangell as of today’s daily update from Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen.

However, there are new developments close to home. It was confirmed Sunday evening that the city of Petersburg has its first confirmed case of the virus. Prysunka said he has spoken with officials in Petersburg, and they are saying the infected person had been traveling, but did a good job of isolating themselves when they returned to Petersburg. They are hoping that future spreading of the virus, if any, is limited in scope.

“Our thoughts are with our neighbors, Petersburg,” he said.

Von Bargen also announced some new safety precautions Wrangell would be taking. New information suggests that not only can COVID-19 survive on hard surfaces, but it can also be contracted by animals. With this in mind, Von Bargen said that effective at 5 p.m. tonight, all borough playgrounds will be closed to the public. Basketball and volleyball courts will remain open for the time being, she said, so long as people follow social distancing. She added that they are considering the closure of public restrooms, too, but no action is being taken at this time.

Von Bargen also asked that everyone please keep their distance from each other when walking on the nature trails, to pay attention to the city’s leash laws, and to clean up after their pets.

Some other news that the public needs to know is the city has taken steps to help members of the public get face masks. It is important for members of the community to start wearing face masks when they leave their homes, Prysunka said. This is not about protecting yourself from the virus, as the benefits of masks are somewhat limited there. It is more about limiting further spread of the virus. In an effort to make sure the public has access to face masks, there is a new email address for people to use. Email masks@wrangell.com, or call the Irene Ingle Public Library at (907) 874-3535, to request face masks. The city will then distribute these requests to local community members who are spending their free time sewing masks. Once they are ready, they will be made available for pickup at the library.

April 3

During today’s daily COVID-19 update, Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen both wanted to encourage the public to continue following current guidelines regarding social distancing and self-isolation. There are still no cases of the virus in Wrangell, Prysunka reported, but that is not a sign to slack off.

“Now is the not the time to do that,” he said. “We want to remain vigilant.”

Von Bargen said that the state department of epidemiology is expecting numbers of cases to continue to rise statewide, until the end of April. Everyone needs to keep doing their part to “flatten the curve,” and keep the virus out of Wrangell for as long as possible. This means the community must continue social distancing. Von Bargen added that social distancing extends to vehicles, as well. People should avoid grouping together, or meeting with strangers, in their cars or on boats. Prysunka said this was especially important to remember, as the Nolan Center and Harbor Light Assembly of God were planning to host a drive-in movie night on Saturday. He asked that everyone remember to social distance and not pick up friends or family they don’t already live with tomorrow night.

Another way to help with community safety is to wear a face mask. Prysunka said that new state guidance says people should begin to wear masks. They could help limit the spread of the virus. A homemade face mask will not protect someone from catching COVID-19, he said, but it will help stop someone with the virus from accidentally spreading it further. It is just another precaution people can take, on top of social distancing and limiting interactions with others. Von Bargen added that the city would be providing information, in the near future, on where and how the public can get masks.

“If you have a mask now, put it on.” Prysunka said.

Another item mentioned in the update included confirmation from Prysunka that rumors of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Petersburg are nothing but rumors. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services shared information online indicating a confirmed case in the city, but in actuality this report comes from a Petersburg resident who passed away from the virus in Washington state. All COVID-19 test results for Petersburg to-date have returned negative.

There will be no daily update over the weekend. The updates will begin again on Monday, shortly before a special borough assembly meeting scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Prysunka asked that everyone continue to practice social distancing, good hygiene, and to safely check in on their neighbors regularly.

April 2

Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen held their daily COVID-19 update late this afternoon. There are still no confirmed cases of the virus in Wrangell.

Von Bargen wanted to assure everyone that while traveling is not recommended at this time, in-state or out-of-state, there were no plans to cancel air service at this time. Wrangell is part of the Essential Air Service, a program that guarantees remote communities have access to air travel. There are currently no plans for Alaska Airlines to cancel its service to Wrangell, she said. Prysunka added that maintaining air service was vitally important to the community, not only for the passengers and freight coming in and out of town, but also to send out COVID-19 tests for study.

On the topic of testing, Prysunka also took time during the update to comment on an editorial in today’s edition of the Wrangell Sentinel. In his editorial, Publisher Ron Loesch makes the argument that the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium should release community-specific testing numbers for Wrangell, and not just consortium-wide numbers. Prysunka, however, feels differently. He said that he and Von Bargen stand by SEARHC’s decision to withhold local test numbers for a variety of reasons. Local test numbers really show nothing, he said. If there are only a few tests one week and a lot more the next week, all that really shows is the mandates for which patients qualify for COVID-19 testing have changed. What symptoms a patient has that qualify them for testing can be a moving target, he said. Von Bargen added that anyone who meets the screening requirements for testing is getting tested. Prysunka also said that SEARHC’s decision to provide only consortium-wide test numbers is not a unique decision to SEARHC, and other medical providers are making the same choice. Lastly, he said that the state department of epidemiology also did not recommend releasing local testing numbers. All in all, he said, the City and Borough of Wrangell was pleased with how SEARHC is handling the current pandemic and they respect the organization’s decision.

4/1/20 COVID-19 Update

Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen hosted a brief teleconference, on Wed., April 1, to share pertinent information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic with the public. There are still no confirmed cases of the virus in Wrangell as of this date, Prysunka said. However, this is not cause for relaxation.

Von Bargen said she was recently part of a teleconference with other city managers across Alaska, along with representatives from FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. She said, according to those representatives, the very best thing everyone can do to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading is to continue to practice good hygiene, socially distance, and self-isolate as much as possible.

"Please, please, I urge everyone, stay vigilant," she said.

Prysunka added that it was especially important for Wrangell to "flatten the curve" and keep the virus off the island as much as possible. Wrangell is an island, he said, and the supplies and resources on hand are limited. For everyone's safety, people needed to keep treating the pandemic like an emergency, even if it goes on for some time and the sense of urgency might diminish.

"We are trying to be as prepared as we can, but every day is a new challenge," he said.

During the update, Prysunka added some new measures the city is taking to protect itself.

A moratorium has been placed on Alaska Crossings, Sea Level Seafoods and the Forest Service from bringing in any new seasonal employees until May 1. All parties agreed upon this decision, he said, and will be reviewed around mid-April. Von Bargen added that the state was also requiring out-of-state workforces to submit a travel plan before entering Alaska.

3/30/20

Mayor Steve Prysunka and Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen went on radio station KSTK last evening, March 30, to provide a brief community update on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The mayor and Borough Manager have been trying to provide daily community updates, to make sure the public is informed during this time. There are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in Wrangell, according to Prysunka.

Von Bargen wanted to share with the public new travel mandates issued by Governor Mike Dunleavy, limiting interstate travel to only those who need to travel for essential needs or services, or if they are part of the essential workforce. Essential travel could include medical visits, or going to get supplies for one's family, she said. Prysunka added that the city of Wrangell has recommended that anyone coming into town self-quarantine for two weeks.

Also during this update, Von Bargen spoke about the differences between "shelter in place" and "self-quarantine." Sheltering in place, she said, is a recommendation by authorities for everyone to stay at home and socially distance themselves as much as possible. People can still leave their homes to get exercise or to go out and buy groceries, she gave as examples, but to try and keep 6-feet of distance between themselves and other people. Self-quarantine, however, means that people are advised to stay in their homes for two weeks, no matter what. Anyone undergoing a self-quarantine is advised to call friends, family, or even the city to get help on getting necessities like groceries.

 

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