City adopts revised virus alert system

Council: Color-coded system will allow virus response ‘tailored to Cordova’

The Cordova Center. (July 13, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

At a Wednesday, July 15 special meeting, Cordova City Council unanimously adopted a revised system for coordinating local response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The color-coded alert system resembled a streamlined version of the “Orange Alert” system discussed at a June 17 city council meeting. A clearly defined response system will help put the city on solid legal footing in the event that it must impose restrictions in response to an outbreak, officials said.

The five-tiered system ranges from “Level 1,” at which there are no restrictions, to “Level 5,” at which a near-total shutdown of public and private spaces is mandated in response to a large, uncontrolled outbreak. An alert may be triggered when coronavirus transmission increases, when the city’s testing capacity diminishes, when the city’s public health capacity is impacted by an influx of workers, or when health care providers run low on space to care for coronavirus patients.

“I like that the metrics for each level are clearly defined, easy to understand, they’re medically based, but also tailored to Cordova,” City Councilwoman Anne Schaefer said. “The statewide metrics don’t necessarily work for our population size and the type of medical services that we have here.”

Councilman David Allison supported the measure despite skepticism that current circumstances constitute a genuine emergency.

“I’m going to support the motion because I understand the way politics work and funding works and resource allocation works from both the state and the feds,” Allison said. “I think we need to do this.”

City Manager Helen Howarth emphasized the importance not only of managing the virus, but of managing public perception of the virus.

“We had our first community case, we knew quickly that it was a member of city hall, but the word got out almost before we could even talk about it amongst ourselves,” Howarth said. “It’s hard to manage people’s fears, but, I think, if we’re all consistent in our approach, and follow the guidelines that have been set up… we will protect our community, and we’ll be okay. Where we won’t be okay is when people are telling you that you should be hunkered down in your house when you’ve been given no guidance to do that, and we start getting into ‘thems’ and ‘us-es’.”

The community’s first four coronavirus cases were Ocean Beauty Seafoods employees who tested positive shortly after arriving in Cordova. The community’s fifth case was a passenger arriving from Bellingham, Washington by ferry. The community’s sixth case, identified July 6, was a traveler returning from Anchorage. The community’s seventh case, identified July 8, was a Cordova City Hall employee. This was the first identified local case to have spread through community contact. Subsequently, the Cordova Center and city hall were temporarily shut down for cleaning.

“I think it was good that city hall was impacted, rather than a business locally that might have been shut down,” Howarth said.

An eighth case, also non-travel-related, was reported July 9. The community’s ninth and tenth cases, both travel-related, were reported July 10. As of July 15, six of Cordova’s 10 cases have recovered, according to data published by the city. There have been no new cases reported since July 10, although it remains likely that there are other cases in the community that have not yet been identified, according to a release by the city.

The city is not currently publishing numbers of coronavirus tests locally administered, nor is it publishing estimates of local health care providers’ capacity to administer additional tests. Compiling these figures was a burden to the city’s medical team, and they did not reflect data pertinent to controlling community spread, said Public Information Officer Cathy Sherman, who is also a member of the city council.

In response to the early-July spike in local cases, the Parks and Recreation Department closed Bob Korn Memorial Pool and Skater’s Cabin until at least Monday, July 20.

Cordova School District is evaluating how to safely return students to school, officials said. School is scheduled to resume Aug. 24, according to a calendar issued by the school district.