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St. Paul Island Hunkers Down After City Confirms Local 'Breakthrough' Case Of COVID-19

St. Paul, Alaska
John Ryan

The City of St. Paul is in "hunker down" mode after an individual traveling to the island tested positive Monday for COVID-19.

The City Council voted unanimously to ask residents to stay at home as much as possible, St. Paul City Manager Phil Zavadil said.

"In 'hunker down,' non-essential businesses are closed, people are working from home, essential businesses are open, but their COVID protocols are in place," Zavadil said. "So the majority of the city is open, everybody's kind of keeping separate, but we're still providing services." 

The person who tested positive was vaccinated, Zavadil said, making this a "breakthrough" case. They were tested because the city reinstated travel testing last month, but because the individual was vaccinated, they didn't have to quarantine after arriving in St. Paul.

Now, there are more than 40 close contacts in St. Paul who have been identified and asked to isolate.

Despite intentions to keep essential services open, on an island of about 370 people, the number of those in quarantine means a significant portion of the community's services have been affected.

"Due to close contacts, we have a lack of staff at the store," Zavadil said. "We have one post office worker and they were a close contact, so they're in quarantine." 

The island's Unified Command is meeting Wednesday to discuss possible testing options to get some of those essential workers who are also close contacts back to work, Zavadil said.

The island community has a vaccination rate of about 88% for eligible residents, but about 60 people are under age 12 and can't yet receive a vaccine. 

School for St. Paul students was scheduled to start this week. In order to limit the spread of the virus they'll wait another week or two — depending on testing — to open back up for the new academic year, Zavadil said. 

"Part of the reason for that is there's several close contacts that are kids," he said. "So we just didn't want to take that chance."

Right now, the local Trident fish-processing plant isn't processing any product because the island's halibut fishery didn't open this year, Zavadil said. But if the community and processors stick to mitigation plans, he said he doesn't anticipate any major issues for the upcoming crab seasons.

"We know wearing a face covering works," he said. "We know social distancing works. We know some type of quarantine works. We know our Community Workforce Protection Plan — which outlines some of those [protocols] — that works. And it all works in combination." 

The city doesn't yet know if this is a case of the delta variant.

The Bering Sea community's "hunker down" order is currently set to expire on Aug. 24.


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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