Ketchikan’s pandemic risk level was raised to “high” on Wednesday. That’s after nearly two dozen cases have been confirmed since Monday. It’s the first time local authorities have raised the community to Level 3 — the second highest mark for COVID-19 danger.
The move to high risk could mean big changes for daily life in Ketchikan including reducing the number of kids attending classes in person and other restrictions.
There are at least 43 active cases; that’s following 23 people testing positive since Monday. Four people are hospitalized for severe symptoms.
Ketchikan’s emergency manager Abner Hoage says the recent hospitalizations and an increase in the community’s positivity rate means extra precautions and vigilance are needed.
“We have a few outbreaks of COVID-19 in the community,” Hoage said told KRBD. “It means we’re starting to see some impact on the hospital system and their bed capacity. And we’re starting to see because of how quickly it’s spreading, that we’re having difficulty in catching up and getting ahead of it in order to isolate and quarantine the contacts so that it doesn’t keep spreading.”
PeaceHealth currently has six beds in its COVID-19 unit, and that number could be quickly expanded to at least 13, says Dori Stevens, the hospital’s chief administrative officer. She says the uptick in cases is not projected to overwhelm local health care capacity.
PeaceHealth has a total of 25 inpatient beds, not counting its emergency room or the six-bed COVID unit, she said.
But it’ll be up to Ketchikan’s individuals to take precautions like wear masks, not gather in groups and maintain social distancing to control the spread.
“We are able to control this. This is in our ability as a community if we stick to the basics, which is masking, washing hands, social distancing and not sharing space,” Stevens said in a phone interview.
The move to Level 3 prompted an emergency school board meeting Wednesday night. There, the school board decided most middle- and high-schoolers to move to a hybrid of in-person and distance learning online.
The affected schools are Schoenbar Middle School, Revilla Junior-Senior High School and Ketchikan High School, also known as Kayhi. They’ll be limited to 50% capacity. That means most students at those schools will attend classes in person two days a week and complete online lessons for the remainder of the week. But there will be some exceptions for students with special needs.
Superintendent Beth Lougee said the three affected schools will move to the hybrid system after a short transition period.
“Schoenbar, Revilla and Kayhi — what we’re asking for is a two-day online turnaround starting tomorrow. So all students are at home, staff is expected to be here. They will be providing the online learning just like we did during the 24-hour closure when we had a COVID case,” Lougee said.
The earliest students at Schoenbar, Revilla and Kayhi could return to classrooms full-time is Nov. 30. But that’ll only happen if the community’s risk level has fallen to “moderate” or “low.”
In the meantime, the rest of the district’s schools, including each of Ketchikan’s elementary and charter schools, will continue to hold classes in person five days a week. That’s because with extra classroom space leased by the district, officials say there’s room to spread children out and reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
However, Houghtaling Elementary will be closed Thursday after the district reported a positive case in a student Wednesday night.
Details of the district’s plans are posted online at KGBSD.org.
City buildings will close to the public at 8 a.m. Thursday. Half of the city’s workforce will work from home. Thursday’s scheduled City Council meeting will take place via videoconference. The Ketchikan Public Library will close to the public. And the Gateway Recreation Center will close its gyms and limit capacity.
And there are also voluntary recommendations for businesses: Bars should close, officials say, and restaurants should reduce capacity to 50% and require reservations to make contact tracing easier. And officials say all businesses should encourage remote work, mask-wearing and social distancing. The city has not adopted any measures that would trigger mandatory restrictions on residents and businesses.
This story was updated with additional information following Wednesday evening’s emergency school board meeting.