St. Paul hunkers down following largest spike in COVID cases since start of the pandemic

A dirt road under cloudy sky
St. Paul announced a gas ration on Feb. 22 after bad weather canceled the arrival of a fuel barge. (Hope McKenney/KUCB)

One of the most sealed-off communities in the country is under a hunker down order following a surge of COVID-19.

Roughly half of all coronavirus cases recorded on St. Paul Island have happened in the last two weeks.

Phil Zavadil, the city manager of the remote Pribilof community of about 370 people, said this is the largest increase in cases since the start of the pandemic. He said the island has recorded 71 cases since an essential worker tested positive in late May. Most are residents.

“We just don’t want it to spread to our elders and our immunocompromised individuals,” he said. “We’ve still got people going out visiting people, where we’ve been finding that people are positive and spreading the virus before they test positive or develop symptoms.”

Zavadil says more than 90% of the community is vaccinated against the virus, and no one has recorded severe symptoms or been medevaced off island.

The community has maintained some of the strictest measures against COVID-19 since the disease arrived in the state in early 2020. Those include strict testing requirements and, more recently, a public list of who is quarantining and why.

The City Council passed the two-week hunker down order Tuesday that also requires people to stay at home as much as possible. It’s the first time they’ve passed such an order since the island’s last surge in January, Zavadil said. The order will be in effect until June 17.

Until now, the community had reported very few COVID infections. As of Thursday afternoon, there have been a total of 135 COVID-19 cases recorded in St. Paul. The first was reported in April of last year.

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