Petersburg’s emergency disaster declaration expires at midnight tonight and the community alert level is being downgraded to green status.
The emergency operations center is dissolving with the end of the disaster declaration and issued what may be its last COVID press release Wednesday.
The EOC says with no active COVID cases in the community for several weeks the status level is changed to green. That status is essentially a message of “all-clear” and signals no risk of COVID spread. It’s the lowest level for the community’s emergency response plan and the first time to be at that level since the start of the pandemic.
The end of the disaster declaration also means an end to weekly press releases, EOC social media posts on the topic, regular radio shows and the borough’s COVID information online page. The Petersburg Medical Center will update any active case numbers on an online dashboard.
With the end of the disaster declaration, the borough’s remaining health mandate also expires. That required pre-approval before cruise ships docked in Petersburg. That’s no longer required starting July 1st.
Incentive drawings to encourage people to get vaccinated finished up this month. But there’s more money from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and Department of Health and Social Services for the same purpose. That funding will pay for 100 gift certificates from the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce for $50 each. And they’re for Petersburg residents who get their shots after June 30.
Free face coverings are still available through the Public Health Center at 772-4611 but they won’t be at the public library.
As Petersburg’s emergency operations center disbands this week (6/30), COVID-19 testing for travelers will be moving from the airport to Petersburg Medical Center. Local officials say the number of people seeking tests has declined with more people vaccinated. And the borough is working to extend a contract with the state to continue to offer the service.
For over a year the Petersburg borough has contracted with the state to test travelers at James A. Johnson Airport. That agreement has been extended and changed three times but expires this month, along with the end of the local emergency operations center.
Sandy Dixson is fire and EMS director and she ends her role as section chief for the Petersburg emergency operations center after June 30.
“So we’re in the process now of negotiating a fourth amendment and that will allow the hospital to transition to their campus,” Dixson said Monday. “They’re not getting much,” she said of testing numbers. “I believe this last week we had 25 tests, 20 of which were initial travel tests and five were follow up tests. And so it’s not really economical to stay up there and we’re not getting a lot of traffic. So this will give people an opportunity to test if they would like to and it will allow us to give up the space at the airport.”
That means the testing and screening tent will come down. A new extension on that agreement would continue the service through the end of September. But it will move to the Petersburg Medical Center, where asymptomatic and symptomatic testing are already offered.
The state switched its travel testing requirement to advisory only this year as vaccination numbers rose and COVID case numbers fell.
Within the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state of Alaska advise pre-travel testing and either quarantine or and post travel testing for non-vaccinated people. But the health agencies say there’s no need to quarantine or test if you’re fully vaccinated.
Dixson said the option will still be available for all. “So even if you are vaccinated or you think you haven’t been exposed, you are welcome to test and we encourage you to test,” she said. “Because that’s what’s going to keep us ahead of the game.”
She estimated testing numbers at the airport probably hit highs of around 120-140 a week during the pandemic.
Travelers will see a sign at the airport with a QR code to scan with a smartphone. That will link to information on testing and vaccination. And the medical center’s COVID hotline 772-5788 will become the one-stop number to call, for information or appointments.
“People can select an option for whether they want to speak to a nurse because they have symptoms and those calls will go to someone who can assist with that and then options for testing either as an airport traveler or as just somebody who’s concerned about wanting to get tested for some other reason like work, or their own personal travel, going somewhere, feel like they may have been exposed but they don’t have symptoms,” said Liz Bacom, quality and infection preventionist at PMC. “And then the last option would be to schedule a vaccine. We really want to see people adopting to the vaccination mindset because that is what’s going to end this pandemic.”
Bacom said the spread of variants around the globe is a concern.
“The delta variant is showing minor symptoms that can be very easily dismissed as a common cold and for people who are not immunized who are immuno-compromised, who are not old enough to get a vaccine, those are the folks who that are most at risk for being exposed and getting very sick so we really want to encourage people to get vaccinated,” Bacom said. “That is really the cornerstone for us moving forward.”
PMC CEO Phil Hofstetter said the medical center is making asymptomatic, symptomatic and travel testing, along with ongoing vaccination, part of the hospital’s regular operations.
“It takes a lot of effort to really incorporate those because it’s still additional workload but you know our staff is doing a really good job of doing that. It certainly helps that we don’t have the huge volumes obviously with the COVID vaccinations we’ve been keeping the rates down,” he said.
Petersburg continues to report no active cases. If there is a new outbreak Hofstetter said the hospital’s emergency operations system would scale up as needed to respond.