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Leaders Review Commercial COVID Testing, CBW Resources

WRANGELL – On Wednesday, May 27, members of the Wrangell Unified Command met via videoconference to consolidate pandemic information and response from respective local organizations. Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) leadership commented on expansion of testing for select community organizations, while the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW) Manager announced new cleaning supply stock and the potential purchase of an ambulance with CARES Act funding. Representatives from Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Alaska Department of Public Health, and the AICS Clinic were also on the call.

WMC Medical Director Dr. Lynn Prysunka provided an update on local commercial industry COVID-19 testing. SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) representatives are currently working to finalize a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Pacific Seafoods to test an estimated 26 seasonal employees traveling to Wrangell from outside communities beginning June 1. SEARHC and CBW are reviewing options for testing of employees of additional commercial operations and local businesses.

SEARHC Vice President and WMC Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff stated that hospital staff is working with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Captain Dorianne Sprehe to conduct COVID-19 testing on all local EMS staff. Merculieff said that WMC will “designate a block time to test our emergency care partners in the (alternative testing site) tent in the coming days.”

CBW Manager Lisa Von Bargen updated meeting participants on response from City Hall, including the arrival of bulk hand sanitizer, which CBW will work to distribute to businesses and community organizations. Additionally, CBW Wastewater Department staff has been working to create a bleach alternative for use by the fishing industry, should a bleach shortage present itself in Wrangell.

Von Bargen also notified those on the call to a Thursday, May 28, CBW Assembly special meeting called to approve the purchase of a new ambulance utilizing $205,871 of CARES Act funding. The vehicle, manufactured by Braun Ambulance, will supplement the existing fleet and features power cot loading capabilities, reducing the number of EMS required to load and unload patients. The purchase of the ambulance was approved by the Assembly last Thursday evening.

Public Health Nurse Erin Michael announced that the Alaska State Laboratory is working to release an online portal, which would streamline the process for providers to receive test results for a variety of services, including COVID-19 testing. Michael also mentioned discussions within Public Health to soon implement COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic persons in jails across the state. An implementation date has not been decided yet, but discussions are progressing.

Michael closed with some guidance from the State regarding congregate gatherings, which she believed could affect some 4th of July events locally. Per state guidelines, for gatherings of 500 or more people where six-foot social distancing is not an option, masking is recommended and safety plans for the event are required to be submitted to the Department of Public Health for approval.