SITKA — “Oh my goodness,” Craig Warren said while watching the COVID-19 numbers for Sitka update on Thursday morning.
Warren, Sitka’s COVID-19 response incident commander, counted out loud: 11 new cases as of that morning, though more were expected in the afternoon.
Sitka is in the midst of a major increase in COVID-19 cases, including among some people who have already been vaccinated.
“At first, it was just a trickle,” Warren said. “And now it seems like the floodgates are open.”
Masks are now required in city buildings in Sitka after a spike of 60 new COVID-19 cases in one week, from July 6 to 13.
“Mask up, whether you are vaccinated or not,” Warren advised members of the public. City officials said 18 of the 60 new cases involved people who were fully vaccinated.
City Administrator John Leach said masks will be required in city buildings “if social distancing of at least 6 feet or more between individuals cannot be maintained,” the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported.
The action comes after he said most citizens have done their part to help stop virus spread.
“I must take this action to ensure the safety of our community, help our recovering economy, safely welcome back tourism and allow our kids to get back to a normal school year,” Leach said in a statement.
City officials said in a statement that the spike is not the failure of the vaccine. They said the vaccine does not provide 100% protection, but does decrease the severity of the illness, reduce hospitalizations and decrease the risk of death.
“Our current high alert level is not just people being sick at home; it’s also sick people wandering around our community,” Unified Command officials said in the statement. “In the past year, there were six cumulative hospitalizations that has now increased this week alone to 15. There was one hospitalized individual that was, in fact, vaccinated. Now is the time for concern. And now it’s time to rethink flattening the curve.”
City officials are asking people to wear masks, whether or not they are vaccinated; to maintain distance in public places and to stay home if feeling ill.
Juneau officials on Thursday urged unvaccinated people who have traveled to Sitka, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula — three locations seeing spikes in cases — to take COVID-19 tests when arriving at Juneau International Airport. If other unvaccinated travelers did not get tested after visiting these locations in the last week, officials recommend they contact their local health providers.
Daily News reporter Morgan Krakow contributed from Anchorage. Material from the Daily Sitka Sentinel and Associated Press was used in this report.