(Please note: This story has been updated to include new COVID-19 numbers reported by the Kodiak Area Regional Services Organization on Monday morning.)
The coronavirus outbreak at the Coast Guard station in Kodiak grew to 13 cases over the weekend, amid reports that the Coast Guard has raised its risk status from AMBER to RED.
Four COVID-19 cases had been reported by mid-week. The Coast Guard said those service members were all close contacts, who had traveled off-island recently. On Thursday, the Coast Guard disclosed there were two more cases involving children who are dependents of service members who had been exposed to the virus.
On Friday, the Kodiak Area Emergency Services Organization reported two more close contact cases tied to the Coast Guard station, which brought the total number of COVID exposures on base to eight. Over the weekend, that number grew by five.
Kodiak City Manager Mike Tvenge, who also serves as director of the emergency services group, said representatives from an emergency services council, which includes the Coast Guard, met over the weekend.
“The Coast Guard has been very transparent about this the whole time,” Tvenge said. “And if they weren’t, we wouldn’t hear about any of this. But we’ve had briefings over the weekend, and we’re going to continue monitoring the situation.”
Tvegne says he wants to reassure the community that the Coast Guard outbreak is not out of control.
“Overall, these cases are monitored and contained. The spread is what we know of, which is a good thing,” Tvenge said. “If we didn’t know where the cases were coming from, that would be more frightening.”
Tvenge says the Coast Guard outbreak of COVID cases is similar to the one this summer at the OBI Seafood plant at Alitak on the south side of Kodiak Island. On August 5, the seafood processor disclosed that 37 of its workers had tested positive for the virus.
“The virus is very active, and the virus wants to spread.” Tvenge said. “It just shows that the virus wants to find a host.”
“We all need to be vigilant about taking care of each other,” said Tvenge, who urges everyone to make wearing masks and social distancing a top priority.
“We should be careful about this,” he said. “The State of Alaska is on the uptick with more cases reported the last couple of weeks than previously.”
Tvenge said the emergency council discussed the Kodiak Coast Guard station’s shift from AMBER to RED status.
Although the Coast Guard has not confirmed the change in status, KMXT has received internal documents from service members which outlined new restrictions.
One of the notifications came from the commanding officer of the base, Capt. Edward J. Hernaez, who wrote:
“…all active duty members shall assume a “Limited Movement” status for a period of 14 days, 3 October to 17 October. Limited movement is required to maintain mission ready to serve the American people, and to do so safely and carefully, in order to minimize the spread of the virus through our own ranks, families and communities. Limited Movement means you shall significantly reduce your social bubble and reduce your footprint around Base and in the Kodiak community. Specifically limit your actions outside your house, unless you are at work, shopping for essentials, or outside doing yard work or a socially distanced outdoor activity…”
In the bulletin, Hernaez called this an “increased risk posture” and told members they should wear masks on base at all times except in their immediate workspaces. They were also notified of a 14-day closure of recreational facilities as well as the base’s childcare facilities. Hernaez also urged service members “to the maximum extent possible to cancel in-person meetings” and shift to virtual or telephonic meetings.
“This is the biggest crisis we’ve faced together,” Hernaez wrote.
He also told members that the Coast Guard has been engaged in aggressive contact tracing and has cast a wide net.
“This approach has resulted in a large number of members and families being placed in quarantine. Our initial efforts have been very successful, but we fully anticipate more COVID cases to surface over the next two weeks,” Hernaez wrote.
He also said the Coast Guard would hold an interactive livestream town hall event this week to respond to the questions and concerns of Coast Guard members.
Some parents with children who attend the base’s Childcare Development Center after school program said they were worried about conflicting information from the CDC program and a KMXT report on Friday, https://kmxt.org/2020/10/coast-guard-covid-19-cases-two-involve-children/which said a child in the program’s annex building had been exposed to COVID 19.
Parents shared a communication from the program’s director, Heather Russell, who wrote, “There are no current positive cases at the CDC either with our children or our staff.”
In an Oct. 2 email, Petty Officer Lauren Dean, a Coast Guard public information officer, wrote:
“One of the children exposed to the virus attended an afternoon daycare center at the base. As a precautionary measure, members considered to have been exposed and who may be asymptomatic, have been placed into a quarantine status until results are received. Members who have been confirmed to have positive COVID test results have been placed in an isolation status to further reduce potential spread to our members and to the local community in Kodiak.”
In an Oct.3 email, Dean wrote that the daycare’s closure was not directly linked to children exposed to the virus.
“However, due to the confirmed COVID positive cases that were reported Monday from the air station, the decision to later close the CDC was made out of an abundance of caution in order to perform a deep cleaning of the facility as part of the command’s forward-leaning posture surrounding the virus.”
The Kodiak Area Emergency Services Organization updated its COVID-19 count on Monday to include seven new cases. Since April there have been 90 reports of coronavirus exposure associated with the Kodiak Island. Sixteen are currently classified as active locally.