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The KUCB Newsroom provides newscasts Monday through Thursday at noon and 5 PM on KUCB Radio. You can find many of our local news stories here.

New COVID-19 Cases Dash Hopes Of Relaxed Restrictions As Unalaska Returns To 'High' Risk

Berett Wilber/KUCB

The City of Unalaska is returning to its "high" coronavirus risk level after just two days at "medium," forcing schools to stick with hybrid in-person and remote classes and requiring municipal buildings to maintain limits on public access. 

Locals were eagerly awaiting a possible reopening of facilities and classrooms after the city reported Wednesday that the island had gone two weeks without a case of COVID-19 stemming from community spread. That's the required amount of time before the city can move into a lower risk threshold under its Unified Command guidelines.  

But those dreams were crushed Thursday, before the city even had time to revise local mandates to align with the newly-lowered risk level. At a City Council meeting that evening, officials announced a new case of community spread of the virus in an Unalaska resident. 

In an interview Friday, City Manager Erin Reinders acknowledged residents' frayed emotions, while also encouraging them to stay committed to local and state health mandates.

"There's no doubt that this is a long haul for everyone," Reinders said. "I was really hopeful, kind of excited about being able to go back to that medium risk level. And I was saddened and disappointed that we are going up to 'high' again, [but] it isn't forever. It's really important that we do all that we can to protect the health of the community and not overwhelm the healthcare system."

The city updated its numbers Friday to reflect a second new community-acquired case. Both people had "multiple close contacts in the community before receiving positive tests for COVID-19," the city said in a statement. 

Contact tracing is still underway, said Melanee Tiura, chief executive at the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic. 

Along with much of the community, Unalaska schools had anticipated a move to in-person learning starting Monday. 

But given the city's update, Superintendent John Conwell said schools will likely continue the district's "hybrid model." That includes both in-person and remote learning, where cohorts of students can attend classes in the afternoons, unless community case counts rise further. 

Under the district's plan, if the city reports six or more active cases of community spread of the coronavirus, the district would immediately shift back to solely home-based education.   

"We're hoping it stays between zero and five so that we can at least stay in our hybrid model," said Conwell.

Under the city's high coronavirus risk level, municipal facilities like the Community Center, Aquatics Center and Public Library are open by appointment only. Capacity limits will also remain for restaurants and bars, and gatherings are restricted to 10 or fewer people, with some exceptions.   

In addition to the two community-acquired cases reported Friday, the city reported 79 new industry-related cases "across multiple shore-based processors and vessels in port." To date, this marks 518 cases of the virus in Unalaska, 117 of which are currently active.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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