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Wrangell Command Talks COVID-19 Isolation Plans, Testing, Community Resources

WRANGELL  – Wrangell’s Unified Command participated in their weekly conference call on Wednesday, May 6, to provide organizational updates on COVID-19 developments and changes in respective protocols. The City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW) Mayor and Manager were joined by Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) leadership, as well as Tribal and Public Health representatives, to discuss Borough Assembly allocations, testing initiatives, and available community resources.

Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen recapped a portion of the Monday, May 4, CBW Assembly special meeting where funding for the potential rental of a Trident Seafoods bunkhouse for use as an alternate isolation site for COVID-19 patients was approved. Trident recently announced that they would be closed to production for the 2020 season, with EMS Director Dorianne Sprehe working to secure the vacant property and layout initial planning for operations. The Assembly approved a budget of $100,000 for the project and the expense would be eligible for reimbursement from FEMA or Wrangell’s CARES Act allocation.

Von Bargen stated that the Assembly would soon be presented a similar proposal to secure an alternative site for WMC LongTerm Care, should surge plans be implemented. Von Bargen also spoke to the safe reopening of local business, including CBW resources such as the Reopen Wrangell Task Force. Formed to assist and interpret mandates and guidelines, the Task Force recently distributed their first newsletter to the community. In addition, the Borough Mayor, Manager, and CBW staff, participated in a conference call with Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum to discuss small cruise ship travel to communities. Commissioner Crum indicated they want to work with municipalities to ensure safety of the ports and encouraged individual municipalities to reach out to the small cruise ship industry to find solutions.

This week, all WMC staff received a COVID-19 test as part of an initiative from SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) leadership. Testing took place in the off-site tent at WMC, with SEARHC Vice President and WMC Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff and WMC Medical Director Dr. Lynn Prysunka the first to be swabbed.

“SEARHC leadership prioritized the testing of all hospital staff to ensure a safe environment for patients and employees,” said Merculieff. “COVID-19 tests remain available to all patients who meet the symptomatic guidelines. Additional testing initiatives will be introduced by SEARHC as testing supply numbers allow.”

Current symptoms qualifying patients for a test include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, diminished sense of smell/taste, fatigue, headache, rash, runny nose, and sore throat. Contact the AICS Clinic at 907.874.4700 to schedule a testing appointment.

Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) Tribal Administrator Esther Reese discussed tribal response to the pandemic, including the availability of educational and traditional resources. The Tribe is currently distributing books from the Baby Raven Reads program to youth in the community, along with cedar paddles to sand and paint while hunkering down. Reese also announced that WCA was working to create videos for proper mask usage and hygiene featuring Tlingit interpretation.

Public Health Nurse Erin Michael shared information on the 24/7 Alaska Responds Relief Line. The service provides free access to mental health experts for first responders and can be reached at 1.844.985.8275.

Additional information can be found on the CBW COVID-19 resource page at wrangell.com/community/covid-19-resource-page or on the SEARHC COVID-19 web page at covid19.searhc.org.