Peter Segall / Juneau Empire                                The City and Borough of Juneau set up additional testing centers in the parking lot of Centennial Hall on Thursday in downtown Juneau. Additional sites were needed to meet high demand for testing following a advisory earlier in the week. City officials said they would consider setting up the testing site again if the need arises.

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire The City and Borough of Juneau set up additional testing centers in the parking lot of Centennial Hall on Thursday in downtown Juneau. Additional sites were needed to meet high demand for testing following a advisory earlier in the week. City officials said they would consider setting up the testing site again if the need arises.

Juneau awaits results from hundreds of COVID-19 tests

Results from weekend testing are expected to start returning Monday

Juneau officials are waiting on test results for the more than 700 tests administered in the city over a period of time dating back to last week as local health officials try to get a handle on an outbreak of COVID-19. The city put out a notice last week recommending anyone who socialized at a bar between late August and early September get tested even if they weren’t showing symptoms.

That led to a deluge of calls to the city’s COVID-19 hotline and the decision by the City and Borough of Juneau to set up an additional drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of Centennial Hall starting last Thursday to accommodate the high volume of requests.

The first were expected to arrive Monday afternoon, said Robert Barr, planning section chief for the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

The city’s emergency operations center reported Monday evening nine new COVID-19 cases among residents since Friday afternoon. Seven of the cases came in Friday evening and two over the weekend, according to the city. Public Health attributes six of the cases to community spread. Of those six cases, four are associated with bar activity, according to the city. One of the nine cases is attributed to close contact with a known case and two cases are under investigation.

There have now been 25 cases from the past few weeks linked to a social gathering held near the end of August, according to the city.

The state reported 77 new cases Monday, with 4,849 active cases. The state’s average case rate, based on percent positive per 100,000 people over 14 days, was trending upward over the weekend state data show. The state’s average for Sunday was 10.41, a high alert level under the state’s risk metric system. For Juneau, state data show the city’s 14-day average at 14.29 as of Sunday, part of an upward trend in Juneau’s average which began Sept. 2.

Asked if the state laboratories were prioritizing Juneau’s tests, Barr said he had been in contact with state health officials earlier who said they will do everything they can.

The city’s community alert level for coronavirus was raised to Level 3 High, Friday night, a designation with built-in mitigation strategies which shut down bars to indoor service and limited restaurants to 50% capacity for reservation only, dine-in service. City officials are hoping mitigation efforts will ultimately lead to a decrease in the spread of the disease and a reduction in the city’s alert level, Barr said. The state’s alert levels give only recommendations for the general public, with no increased regulations.

[Juneau’s testing machine unlikely to come before December. Here’s why]

“Our hope is that everyone who needed it got tested, a number of bars have been closed for approaching two weeks now,” Barr said. “Our hope is that by going to Level 3 and having bars close and having this large scale testing effort, we’ll turn the corner here and be able to go in the opposite direction.”

Juneau uses a number several metrics to assess its risk level, and it was the measurement of the “containment situation” that caused the most concern for city officials, Barr said. While the number of cases is rising and there is community spread, there are only three patients currently at the hospital with the coronavirus, according to city data, and Barr said the city’s overall health care capacity remained in good standing.

Setting up extra testing sites was an enormous effort and required the coordination and contribution between several city departments, Barr said.

“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about ‘Why can’t we do this all the time?’” Barr said. “It would very quickly lead to burn out. A lot of people pulled together to make this happen, it wasn’t just CBJ. We had staff volunteer from (Bartlett Regional Hospital, Alaska Division of Public Health), we had staff from Docks and Harbors help with registration work. It was an all hands on deck situation.”

Barr said city officials had not ruled out setting up a drive-thru testing site again if the need arises, but emphasized the complexities of putting together a testing operation. Only trained medical personnel could administer the tests, Barr said, not because the testing itself was dangerous, but because of risks associated with removing personal protective equipment. Removing PPE is when most health care professionals contracted COVID-19, Barr said.

“The training requirement is donning and doffing PPE,” he said. “If you are a medical worker and contract the virus because of your job, generally, that happens when you’re taking off your PPE.”

Friday was the busiest day for the downtown test site, according to Barr, who said 283 people were tested. The city had a limited opening Thursday but was still able to test 77 people, he said, though numbers started to decline Saturday and Sunday, which respectively saw 168 and 150 tests administered.

City officials are awaiting test results to determine next steps, Barr said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The badge for the Kenai Police Department (Clarion file)
Walmart briefly evacuated after bomb threat

The investigation is ongoing.

Peninsula Clarion file
Merry voices to fill Kenai chamber

Historical society carolling event returns after hiatus

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State officials urge vaccination as omicron spreads in US

Omicron was first identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Nov. 26.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
1 hunter dead, another missing after boat hits rough seas off Whittier

The pair were reportedly hunting on Wednesday on Esther Island in Prince William Sound.

Kenai City Council members James Baisden (left) and Deborah Sounart (right) listen as member Teea Winger (center) speaks in support of legislation opposing government COVID-19 mandates, during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, in Kenai.
Kenai council declares opposition to mask mandates

The statement does not change city code or supersede federal law.

Signage indicates that face masks are required for entry to the Soldotna Public Library on March 25, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to make mask-wearing optional in city facilities. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Masks recommended, not required in Soldotna city buildings

Council amends measure to make mask-wearing optional

Nick Begich III, seen here in this undated photo, is challenging Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives saying Alaska needs new energy in Washington D.C. (Courtesy photo / Alaskans for Nick Begich)
Nick Begich III touts fiscal conservatism in US House race

GOP candidate challenges Young’s record

Sockeye salmon. (Photo via Alaska Department of Fish and Game)
Fish and Game seeks comment on 2022 sport fish stocking plan

The Sport Fish Division plans to release approximately 7 million fish into the Alaska water systems over the next five years.

A map shows which parts of the Chugach National Forest are open to motorized winter recreation use for the 2021-2022 season. (Map courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)
Parts of Chugach National Forest open to snowmachine use

The 2021-2022 winter motorized season will run through April 30.

Most Read