(Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg health officials Monday upgraded the community’s risk level to red status and local schools are switching to online learning with COVID-19 spreading in the community.

As of Monday, February 22, Petersburg reported 16 active cases, the highest amount the community has seen since the start of the pandemic. That includes 13 local cases diagnosed in the past four days. 11 of the cases are considered to be from COVID spread in Petersburg rather than brought to Petersburg from somewhere else.

The borough’s incident commander Karl Hagerman explained the change to red status on a radio show Monday.

“This is due to quite an abundance of positive COVID-19 cases that have been discovered since Friday until today and that is ongoing with contact tracing efforts continuing and additional testing being done, as rapid clip as we can up at the hospital,” Hagerman said.

In two of the cases, the people have been admitted to Petersburg Medical Center as result of their COVID-19 infections. They are receiving oxygen support and anti-viral medication but are not on ventilators. PMC has that ability but would likely send patients out to Anchorage or Seattle for that treatment.

Other people who have tested positive have been directed to isolate in their homes. Two of the recent cases identified were among staff members at the medical center.

The medical center’s chief of staff Dr. Jennifer Hyer said PMC tested 20 people Saturday, around 10 on Sunday and had at least 11 on the schedule for Monday.  The medical center’s calls on the COVID hotline increased over the weekend. That number is 772-5788. Testing is free whether a person is showing symptoms or not. The medical center is encouraging anyone who thinks they are a close contact to call the hotline to be tested. On Monday, the positivity rate for those tested is at 5.5 percent.

PMC has changed its status to high risk, or red, focusing on tele-medicine where possible but still seeing patients in the emergency room or for acute care. Routine services are still available for patients who have been fully vaccinated. In addition, visitors who are fully vaccinated also may be allowed in the building. This is a change since the start of the pandemic.

The Petersburg School District announced it would switch to remote online learning for Tuesday and Wednesday this week, February 23 and 24 and possibly the rest of the week. Parents should check email, the district website or social media for building schedules, or updates. Stedman Elementary School reported one of its staff members was among those testing positive over the weekend.

Petersburg’s emergency operations center continues to recommend face coverings in public indoor spaces in line with the borough’s masking mandate. With the increase to red status for the community the EOC is now also recommending against any gatherings with people who are not in your household, especially indoor gatherings. The EOC’s Hagerman said the community will be in red status for at least a week and he urges residents and businesses to take precautions.

“A majority of the cases which we’ve seen 13 local cases of COVID since Friday and each of those cases have numerous close contacts that are being investigated,” Hagerman said. “And so to get to the point where we have all the close contacts identified and tested and we know who is positive and who is not, it’s very important for the community to really buckle down and observe some precautions.”

Local health officials are strongly recommending non-essential businesses like bars, restaurants, gyms and personal service businesses close to walk-in customers. Other businesses are advised to switch to telework or staggered shifts to limit contact between employees and delivery only for goods and services. Borough departments closed to foot traffic and some businesses announced that change as well. Assembly meetings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were switched to teleconference only for assembly members.