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Unified Command Discusses Staff Testing, CARES Funding, Reopening Wrangell

WRANGELL – Testing was the focus of the latest Wrangell Unified Command meeting on Wednesday, May 20. During the weekly video conference, first responder and hospital leadership talked COVID-19 testing for their respective staff, while the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW) Manager provided updates on small cruise ship sailings and the Reopen Wrangell Taskforce.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Captain Dorianne Sprehe recapped what she defined as a busy week for the department due to an influx of calls. Planning has begun for an EMS response to larger congregate gatherings as the state continues to open-up, as Sprehe commented that “residents will congregate, whether it’s sanctioned or not.” With alcohol and drug overdoses up more than 20 percent within the state, and congregate activities in areas across the U.S. proven to be a breeding ground for COVID-19 transmission, local EMS will work to be prepared for the increased risks.

The Captain also thanked SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) Vice President and Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff for providing applications for EMS staff to receive COVID-19 testing. As attorneys finalized MOU’s between the organizations, testing for first responders was anticipated to receive the green light by Friday, May 22. WMC was also working with CBW to coordinate tests for all staff at the Wrangell Police Department. Merculieff also provided an update on staff testing, with Wrangell SEARHC staff undergoing a second round of swabbing on Wednesday, May 20.

“It’s been decided that staff will undergo COVID-19 testing every two weeks,” said Merculieff. “This will ensure the virus has not made it into our facilities. Through ruling out positive staff cases, requiring health screenings, introducing universal masking, and enforcing rigorous cleaning practices, WMC and the AICS Clinic will continue to be safe environments for our patients to visit.”

COVID-19 tests remain available to all residents who exhibit symptoms of respiratory disease, regardless of travel or exposure history. Call the Clinic at 908.874.4700 to schedule a testing appointment.

At City Hall, CBW Manager Lisa Von Bargen continues to work with statewide officials obtaining guidance on allowable spending of CARES Act funding. With $3.85 Million earmarked for the community, there are still uncertainties surrounding permitted spending. Current guidance limits use of funding to COVID-19 response and mitigation, while discussions are taking place at the federal level for potential use to replace revenue lost due to COVID-19.

Additionally, Von Bargen updated the team on ongoing discussions with the Alaska Municipal League, Southeast cruise ports, and industry to review the possibility of small ship cruising in Southeast. A group of Southeast cruise ports is recommending a moratorium on small cruise ships until acceptable protocols can be jointly agreed upon by the ports and industry. The Assembly will take action at their May 26 regular meeting regarding this issue. Currently, one cruise ship company is attempting a late June trip to Southeast, including Wrangell, while all other companies have canceled sailings through June.

Reopen Wrangell Taskforce continues to work with local businesses to navigate health mandates from Governor Dunleavy. Within their most recent newsletter, the team provided a link to the AK CARES small business grant program, a survey on the personal protective equipment (PPE) needs of Wrangell’s businesses, and tips to enjoy a socially distanced Memorial Day weekend.

The Reopen Wrangell newsletter can be found on the Business Resources page of the CBW’s new wrangellcovid19.org web page. For information on SEARHC’s response to the pandemic, including testing data, visit covid19.searhc.org.