Masks are required in Petersburg’s airport and while flying to and from Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday discussed having the local government once again take a role in responding to COVID-19 in the community. The borough disbanded its emergency operations center at the end of June leaving that response mostly up to the local hospital. The Petersburg Medical Center meanwhile reported new COVID cases on a visiting boat and asked for help sharing information.

The medical center Monday reported eight new COVID cases for non-residents who arrived in Petersburg on a private boat. Those visitors notified PMC of their symptoms and all passengers on board tested positive. The medical center says they are isolating and don’t pose a risk of spreading the illness in the community.

CEO Phil Hofstetter told the assembly that PMC misses the structure of the emergency operations center.

“I know that the EOC has been disbanded,” Hofstetter said, adding, “It would be nice if we had sort of a scaled back version of that if possible simply because we’re having some difficulty getting communication to the community. We’re also working with the school and other agencies related to some mitigation plans. Again not necessary full on EOC, but it’s certainly missed when we don’t have that structure.”

Hofstetter asked for help from the borough in disseminating information.

The EOC was made up of heads of borough departments, along with representatives from public health, the school district and hospital. It operated for about a year, sharing information and posting the latest about COVID in Petersburg on a borough run dashboard. The borough also put out press releases on a regular basis. Since the end of June, those responsibilities have fallen to the local hospital, although the borough’s emergency manager still attends regular meetings on the topic. The medical center still maintains a dashboard of cases and testing numbers and also issues press releases.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht noted with no local disaster declaration restarting the EOC is not an option. And he said he’d have to think about who in the borough would take on some of the help sought by the hospital.

“We all put a lot of projects aside during COVID,” Giesbrecht said. “So we’ll have to walk through and figure out who we can spare to try and do some of these other things. It’ll take some thought.”

Giesbrecht thought the borough could share the latest information on its website.

Assembly member Dave Kensinger pressed the manager about filling some of the information gaps.

“I want us to stay in the situation we are right now, where we don’t have a lot of COVID cases,” Kensinger said. “We’re able to open our schools. Everything’s good here right now but as we know that could change overnight and I don’t want to see that happen.”

“That’s up to the assembly,” Giesbrecht responded. “I mean if the assembly wants resources put onto this, that’s exactly what we’ll do. You know I want to be careful about committing to a full EOC type environment. We can’t do that, again unless the assembly says Steve, pull all your department heads and then we’re going to have to do some other things to back off on some of the projects we’ve got out there.”

Assembly member Jeff Meucci noted the lack of COVID information on the borough’s website and thought other communities in Southeast are still providing that service. Meucci wanted to respond to the medical center’s request and also noted the school district is grappling with its own mitigation plan for the upcoming year.

“You know the hospital and the school system are under the borough umbrella and as far as I can tell right now there is no umbrella that the borough has,” Meucci said. “It’s just we’ve disbanded the EOC, all the mandate went away and we’ve got the hospital and the school district asking for help and we need to be cognizant of that and do what we can.”

Meucci hoped to be more informed and wanted to have the topic on the agenda for next week’s meeting.

The Petersburg Medical Center maintains a COVID dashboard for the community here.

The state of Alaska updates COVID alert levels for Alaska’s boroughs here.