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Wrangell Leaders Discuss Next Steps in Local Coronavirus Response

WRANGELL – On Wednesday, March 11, representatives from the City and Borough of Wrangell (CBW), the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) and local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) representatives reconvened to consolidate current information and further prepare a local response to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). With Governor Mike Dunleavy’s Thursday announcement of Alaska’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, the joint community team is readying to elevate the local response while the CBW has announced the closure of some non-essential services.

“As a preventative measure, to reduce the risk of potential exposure through group or congregate activities, the Borough has made the difficult decision to close the Nolan Center, Library, the Pool and Recreation Center, and the Community Center for a minimum period of two weeks, beginning today,” said Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen.

Wednesday’s joint meeting began with discussion of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) updated COVID-19 screening questions. In addition to symptomatic requirements of fever and cough, or shortness of breath, criteria for being eligible for a COVID-19 test has been expanded to include travel to areas in the U.S. with significant outbreak occurrence, such as Wash., Calif., or N.Y., as well as recent travel to China, Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and Iran, or any exposure to a confirmed case. WMC is currently able to perform appropriate swab cultures locally and forward to the state approved lab for COVID-19 testing.

Advanced planning is underway to identify alternative quarantine options within the community ahead of any confirmed cases in Southeast. Should demand for tests increase significantly, discussions are being had to possibly implement an off-site option. While equipment and supplies are currently sufficient, efforts are being made to limit the use of personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, by monitoring the number of caregivers directly interacting with patients. To further ensure the safety of WMC Long-Term Care residents, the main lobby entrance has been locked with all patients and visitors now required to use the ER entrance and call button. Long-Term Care visitors will be limited to immediate family and those with power of attorney.

“WMC has remained proactive in ensuring the safety of our patients and residents,” said SEARHC Vice-President and WMC Hospital Administrator Leatha Merculieff. “We appreciate the community’s cooperation in obeying posted signage as we work to isolate emergency services and limit visitor access. WMC staff is working deliberately to introduce a Tier 2 plan for Wrangell SEARHC facilities, as well as collaborating with CBW and local EMS for a community-wide Tier 2 response.”

It is recommended that those displaying COVID-19 symptoms of fever, aching, cough, and shortness of breath remain at home. Avoidance of ill persons remains the top priority in reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The CDC recommends practicing standard respiratory disease prevention, including washing hands thoroughly and often; covering coughs and sneezes; cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects; and getting a flu shot. Patients with chronic illnesses, like diabetes or cancer, or immune compromise, should contact their doctor immediately if they become ill.