Tenakee Springs reports first COVID-19 case

A ferry approaches a town next to spruce covered mountains
The MV LeConte, an Alaska Marine Highway ship, approaches the dock at the Southeast community of Tenakee Springs on Thursday, March 28, 2019. (Nat Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The 155-person Chichagof Island community of Tenakee Springs has reported its first known case of the coronavirus.

Tenakee Springs Mayor Dan Kennedy announced the new case on Tuesday. He identified the man as a Tenakee Springs resident and said that state health officials have started the contact tracing process. 

Read more stories of how the coronavirus is affecting rural Alaska

The man had recently spent time in Juneau and returned to Tenakee before being medevaced back to Juneau on Saturday for an injury unrelated to COVID-19. He had no symptoms of the coronavirus when he tested positive. Several of Tenakee’s first responders had contact with the man and are now in quarantine.

Kennedy asked community members to stay vigilant and follow mandates put forth by the Tenakee City Council. The remote island community of around 155 people is still requesting all visitors and residents to avoid public places for 14 days upon arrivalThe city is also requiring masks in all public buildings and businesses, and along the town’s trail when six-foot social distancing can’t be maintained.

The city has partnered with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) to offer local COVID-19 testing. Tenakee’s clinic has been unstaffed in recent years, but is currently in preliminary negotiations with SEARHC to take it over and staff it part-time, according to Kennedy. Anyone in Tenakee can take a test, whether or not they have symptoms.

The median age in Tenakee Springs is around 58, according to data from the most recent American Community Survey. That’s 20 years higher than the national average. The risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus increases with age, according to the CDC and most health experts.

Mayor Kennedy said he doesn’t think the town’s bathhouse will close in response to the new case. It’s the only place many residents have to bathe. He hopes this case can serve as a wake-up call and encourage residents to carefully follow protocols to reduce the spread of the virus.

Erin McKinstry is a Report for America corps member.

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