The Rae C. Stedman Elementary and other schools in the Petersburg School District started remote learning Feb. 23 because of a community outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo/KFSK)

Petersburg’s COVID outbreak grew to 53 active cases in about a week. There have been at least three hospitalizations and one medevac.

Contact tracing through the State of Alaska is trying to figure out where the clusters of infection could have started in the community.

State public health nurse Erin Michael says the state was able to marshall its forces to focus on Petersburg.

“A lot of other places across the state are not as active as we are with cases and so we’ve got multiple teams working on Petersburg right now that are helping out,” Michael said.

She says the outbreak hasn’t been traced to any single event. But she says it’s been widespread.

“Young kids all the way up to people in their 80s and everywhere in between,” she said. “It’s an equal opportunity infection.”

That was echoed by Petersburg’s hospital CEO Phil Hofstetter.

“We’re seeing cases all over the place,” he said. “Less than a year old all the way up into the 80s. It’s all over the map.”

The Petersburg School District switched to distance learning on Feb. 23 and kids aren’t expected to return to the classroom until March 8 at the earliest. Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says there are several cases connected to the district. She says multiple classrooms have been impacted, particularly in the elementary school, which has been somewhat surprising.

“I think we all were a little more hopeful about sort of the younger kids maybe not being quite as impacted in that sense,” she said, “but the elementary has been hit pretty hard that way. But we do have those connections and a few in the secondary schools as well.”

She says they are not pointing fingers or blaming anyone because the outbreak is so widespread. She’s asking residents to hunker down over the next week to help bring the case count down.

The Petersburg Emergency Operations Center is urging residents to remain calm and not to panic buy at the stores: leave some for the next shopper. They are also asking the island of 3,000 people to adhere to Petersburg’s mask rule.