Most of Ketchikan’s students in secondary school will move to a mix of in-person and distance learning for at least a week starting Monday. And some members of Ketchikan’s school board are complaining it could’ve been prevented if teachers had access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Some 22 new COVID-19 cases in the past week led officials in Ketchikan to upgrade the community to its second-highest risk level Thursday. Eight of the recently infected individuals have no recent travel history or known contacts with positive patients — indicating community spread. Officials have added restrictions and closures of public facilities as a precaution.
The risk level is now considered “high,” or Level 3. Testing is continuing with a positivity rate just above 2%.
Ketchikan’s school board voted unanimously Thursday to reduce capacity at both the middle school and high school by half through at least Friday, Feb. 12.
Ketchikan school board President Kim Hodne was quick to point out that there haven’t been any recent cases among students or faculty.
“Schools [are] doing great. Outside of the schools, not so much,” Hodne remarked at an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon.
The affected schools are Ketchikan High School, Schoenbar Middle School and Revilla Junior-Senior High school. All students at those schools are expected to learn remotely Friday to ease the transition.
The board’s vote also means some after-school activities will be canceled or scaled back.
Elementary and charter schools are unaffected by the board’s order.
Board member Bridget Mattson said Thursday it was a difficult decision to scale back in-class learning. She says if teachers had more access to the vaccine, it probably wouldn’t be necessary.
“But since we are not moving into the tier that allows our teachers to get vaccinated, we have to consider a lot of differing factors, and I think it’s important that we continue to advocate for us to move to that next tier to allow our teachers to be vaccinated so that we can keep our kids in school,” Mattson said.
Ketchikan’s school board recently sent a letter to legislators and the Dunleavy administration urging the state to add teachers to the class of people eligible for state-supplied vaccines. Hodne says the board will meet next week to re-evaluate whether students can return to full-capacity classrooms.
Bars and restaurants are also being asked to close or scale back their capacity in light of the new cases. But any compulsory order would require action from the city council.
Most city-run facilities shut their doors on Thursday. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s offices at the White Cliff Building will remain open to the public, though borough-run public meetings will also move online.
The borough-run recreation center also plans to close its gyms, sauna and racquetball courts and dial back capacity in other rooms. The borough’s transit system says it’ll also limit the number of passengers onboard buses, and officials are asking residents to avoid traveling during peak morning, afternoon and lunch hours — 7 to 8 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. — and to avoid non-essential trips.
Free coronavirus tests are available every Tuesday through Saturday at a drive-up testing site at Berth 3 in downtown Ketchikan. That testing site is open from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The city council will be meeting remotely on Thursday. Members of the public who’d like to address the city council can contact the city clerk’s office at 228-5658. It will be broadcast on local cable channels and streamed online.
A full recording of Thursday’s emergency school board meeting is below.
This story was last updated at 7:12 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4. with the day’s most recent COVID-19 case numbers.