Wrangell doing better at limiting COVID

Wrangell’s vaccination rate continues to improve, while just two new COVID-19 cases were reported in the first 19 days of the month and people continue asking the borough for free face masks.

The community’s low numbers are much improved over August and September, which together accounted for almost half of Wrangell’s COVID-19 cases since March 2020.

As of Tuesday, 68% of Wrangell residents eligible for a vaccination had received at least their first dose, up from 61% three months ago, according to state health department statistics.

Though that is better than the statewide average of 64.3%, it still places Wrangell last among Southeast boroughs — but far ahead of low vaccination rates in the Fairbanks North Star (56%), Kenai Peninsula (54%) and Matanuska-Susitna (47%) boroughs.

The national rate was 77% among people eligible for the vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And while Wrangell is holding down its case count, the state health department reported Tuesday an average of 710 new cases a day over the past four days across Alaska, down from 1,200 on several days last month. Anchorage accounts for about half of the new cases.

Juneau averaged 25 new cases a day in the past week, the state website reported, while Ketchikan health officials tallied 18 new cases over the past weekend.

The state health department reported 11% of COVID tests came back positive last week across Alaska — a new record.

Testing is an important part of stopping the spread, Jamie Roberts, deputy manager at the borough’s emergency operations center, said Tuesday.

Wrangell schools are doing a good job of testing students who travel for sports, she said, and ensuring that anyone with symptoms gets tested and stays home.

SEARHC continues to offer free, no-appointment testing for people without symptoms, offering the walk-up or drive-up testing at a trailer in the hospital parking lot. “Having that testing is really critical,” Roberts said.

Wrangell last reported a COVID-19 case on Oct. 8.

The borough requires that unvaccinated travelers who arrive from out of town must have proof of a negative test taken within 72 hours of their departure for Wrangell or test on their arrival in town. The borough is looking to hire temporary staff to meet the Alaska Airlines flights and share information — and directions to Wrangell Medical Center — with travelers. State grant funds would cover the costs of the “testing greeter.”

The testing requirement does not apply to Alaska residents.

Free face masks are available from the borough by emailing travel@wrangell.com. Roberts reports she continues to deliver a lot of masks, particularly to businesses.

The number of tests administered each day in Alaska used to run about twice the national average, but now is far behind other states.

“We are now testing about a third of the national average at this point, so our testing has really decreased compared to the rest of the United States,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said last week.

Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 14 ranked Alaska in 40th place among all states based on its per capita testing over the past week.

As of Tuesday, the state reported 683 deaths linked to COVID-19, an increase of more than 200 in the past two months as officials catch up on reviewing death certificates.

 

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