Closure of Juneau’s COVID-19 emergency operations center brings changes to testing, data reporting

City officials acknowledge that there are still high rates of COVID-19 in Juneau, but the change indicates that it’s no longer being treated as an emergency.   

Juneau’s COVID-19 testing site is moving from the Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center to Bartlett Regional Hospital on May 8, 2022. (Photo by Jennifer Pemberton/KTOO)

Juneau’s emergency operations center closed on April 30 after managing the city’s response to the pandemic for more than two years. City officials acknowledge that there are still high rates of COVID-19 in Juneau, but the change indicates that COVID-19 is no longer being treated as an emergency.

Robert Barr was in charge of the emergency operations center from the beginning of the pandemic in Juneau. He says now that people have the tools to calculate risk and have ways to combat the virus itself, it’s time to stop treating COVID-19 like an emergency.

Barr also says a lot of city staff have been doing two jobs for a long time. For instance, he was the head of the library system in addition to being the incident commander for about a year.

Now, public health officials and community healthcare providers will take on long term management of the pandemic.

For two years, people have been able to get tested for COVID-19 at the city’s testing facility at the Hagevig fire training center. On May 8, Bartlett Regional Hospital will be managing testing for the general public. The hospital will bill insurance for those who have it, but officials say they won’t charge anyone out of pocket.

The city has stopped updating its COVID-19 dashboard, but weekly COVID-19 case and hospitalization counts are available on the state’s dashboard. The local public health office is still tracking COVID-19 numbers as it has since the beginning of the pandemic and reporting that information to the state. It takes more work now to find local numbers, but it’s doable.

The city will still provide free high quality masks and at-home test kits as long as there’s state and federal resources to do so. Those are available at City Hall and Juneau libraries.

Masking in Juneau has been only a recommendation for months now. But with the emergency operations center closed, the city won’t be able to impose mask requirements unless the city manager makes a new public health emergency declaration.

The COVID-19 hotline is still available, but Bartlett Regional Hospital will manage it now instead of the city’s emergency operations. The number is still 907-586-6000. And Robert Barr says you can still reach him at the manager’s office if you have questions about how the pandemic is being managed in Juneau.

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