Wrangell at 51 cases this month; a new record for COVID


November 18, 2021

Wrangell has set a pandemic record for the community for the number of COVID-19 cases in a month, reporting on Thursday its 50th and 51st infections in the first 18 days of November.

The old record of 48 was set in August.

Amid the surge in new cases in town, the borough assembly had called a special meeting for Thursday to consider an emergency ordinance requiring face masks to help limit further spread of the highly infectious disease.

“Wrangell is experiencing unprecedented levels of positive COVID-19 cases,” the borough reported Monday evening.

The borough, however, at about 9 a.m. Thursday, issued a notice canceling the meeting.

Though the number of infections is increasing, the number of active cases has been declining, down to 30 as of Thursday evening, according to the borough.

"It was decided to cancel the assembly meeting for tonight. However, our numbers are still at an all-time high and the emergency operations center strongly urges everyone to remain vigilant as we work to get our case count down," the borough reported in a prepared statement at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The community has tallied 207 cases since the pandemic count started in March 2020, with 25% of those this month.

And while the case count is surging in Wrangell, it’s generally in decline for the rest of the state.

All but one of this month’s 51 local cases are Wrangell residents. Almost all were close contacts of recent positive cases.

The ordinance that was to have gone before the assembly Thursday said, “Mandating the use of face coverings in public is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health and safety.”

The proposed ordinance would have required everyone over the age of 2 “to wear a mask, cloth face covering over their nose and mouth, or a face shield when they are indoors in public settings or communal spaces outside the home.”

The ordinance was similar to mask requirements approved by the assembly earlier in the pandemic.

As with past efforts, this latest ordinance included a provision that allowed for a $25 fine for noncompliance — but the borough has never cited or fined anyone for failing to wear a mask.

The masking requirement would have applied in stores, restaurants and bars, and other indoor areas where people gather. Masks would not have been required “when the only direct contact is between members of the same household or when employees are not near others (within six feet),” the ordinance said.

Exceptions to masking would have included individuals with certain medical conditions, speech- or hearing-impaired individuals, ministers speaking with a group of people, and several other examples.

The ordinance, as drafted, would have remained in effect through Jan. 11, the date of the assembly’s first meeting of the new year.

“Violation of this ordinance does not create grounds for residents to harass individuals who do not comply with it,” the ordinance said.

A face-mask mandate already is in place for Wrangell’s municipal facilities including City Hall, the public library and recreation facilities.

“Wrangell is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, with many attributed to community spread,” the ordinance said.

“State public health officials are unable to keep up with contact tracing,” the borough reported. “COVID-positive individuals are being requested to conduct their own contact tracing,” and to quarantine and get tested “as soon as possible.”

The case count has been much worse in Petersburg, where the borough on Wednesday reported 60 new cases over the past seven days and 86 active cases. The community has tallied almost 100 cases in the past 14 days, according to the state dashboard.

The Petersburg borough on Thursday reported that 18% of COVID tests in the past seven days had come back positive for the disease.

The Petersburg School District reported 33 active cases among students and staff at the community's three schools as of Thursday, with 38 students and staff in quarantine. The district's COVID dashboard on Thursday reported the community's elementary and middle schools had shifted to remove learning; the high school was still holding in-person classes.

The Petersburg borough assembly at meetings on Nov. 5 and again Nov. 17 ordered a mask mandate, lasting to Dec. 7. The emergency ordinance requires face coverings in all indoor public settings, with the exception of children under age 3 and some limited medical conditions.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough reported a record-high weekend count of 50 new COVID-19 cases. The community on Thursday reported 181 confirmed infections in the past 14 days, with 126 still active as of Thursday.

The PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center's COVID unit hit an all-time high of nine patients on Monday.

The state’s tracking dashboard reports three deaths in Petersburg since the start of the pandemic; a dozen in Ketchikan; and zero in Wrangell. Individuals hospitalized with the disease over the past 20 months total 26 in Ketchikan, 13 in Petersburg and five in Wrangell.

The death toll across Alaska was at 842 as of Thursday, by the state’s count.

Statewide, the case count has declined from near-record highs in September, when Alaska averaged more than 1,200 new infections a day at its worst.

State health officials reported on Thursday an average of under 400 new cases a day over the past week.

Alaska's per-capita rate of new COVID cases over the past seven days is the seventh-highest in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.


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