By Gretchen Wehmhoff

It started as a favor. Would Cynthia Tronrud and her family host their neighbor’s children when the parents flew out of town?

Of course.

The Tronrud family began preparing. No more playdates, start distance learning and get the entire family tested for the coronavirus at Skagway Traditional Council(STC)/SEARHC.

On Nov. 16, Tronrud received partial results via email. Her husband and two of her children’s tests came back negative. But it was the next call from a Sitka number that changed the Tronrud family plans, and the town. Thirteen-year-old Kaitlyn’s test results were positive for COVID-19. Skagway’s tenth case.

“My mouth literally dropped to the floor,” said Tronrud. “It was so out of the blue. We did not expect that whatsoever.”

She immediately called Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC). They put her in contact with a state health nurse who walked them through the steps.

In October, Mike O’Daniel decided to go public to help with contact tracing after he tested positive for COVID-19. The town was already in a seven-day shelter-in-place. School classes had gone to distance learning, businesses either closed for the week or modified hours and delivery methods and Skagwegians stayed home. It took one more week of shelter-in-place and by Halloween, Skagway seemed to have stopped the spread.

Tronrud’s move to go public in a Facebook post was a family decision. The response to her post was overwhelming. Comments brought well wishes, willingness to bring food, games and offers to run errands. Skagwegians were appreciative of the family for sharing the information and offered help.

“There were a few not-so-nice people out there that got me down just a little bit, but the overwhelming response by the community overshadowed them,” Tronrud said.

Tronrud says she’s heard some people were concerned her husband, Drew, had brought COVID-19 to the family. She doesn’t think that’s possible.

Drew boarded a medevac flight with his mother to Juneau in the first week of October. He took tests — testing negative in Juneau, and again when he returned to Skagway. He tested recently with his family and received another negative result.

After Tronrud reached out to DMC, the Emergency Operations Center ordered another seven-day shelter-in-place. School was cancelled, businesses modified their hours and services and Skagwegians, once again, hunkered down.

School restarted in the red zone for the three days before Thanksgiving. Normally, Skagway School would take the entire Thanksgiving week off, but in order to recover the missed days from the week before, the school offered distance instruction Nov. 23-25.

According to Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran, the school will follow the Smart Start program adopted by the school board to determine when school will return to onsite learning.

Teachers were tested on Friday at DMC so they could get back in the classroom and prepare for the next week.

Coughran said junior high students and additional staff were encouraged to test at STC/SEARHC.

“Honestly, I’m encouraging everybody to get tested. Especially with the incredible resources we have with SEARHC and STC and their capacity. The more we know, the better position we’ll be in to make a better decision for the community,” said Coughran.

On Nov. 20, another Skagway resident was surprised with a positive COVID-19 result. According to a Facebook post on Nov. 24, Sally Stevens had suffered “an episode of heart failure” and contacted DMC where she also received a rapid test – it was negative. Stevens traveled to Anchorage for medical care for her heart. When she arrived at the Anchorage airport, the driver took her to a testing site where, after a three-hour wait in line for the test, she was told the results would be ready in a few days.

Stevens received a negative result from the rapid test prior to surgery. It was while Stevens was in recovery from her procedures that she got news of a positive result from her test a few days earlier. She was Skagway’s eleventh case.

Like O’Daniel and the Tronruds, Stevens’ friend, Eva Griffin, shared as much information about Stevens’ movements as she could via the Facebook page, Skagway Swap. If Stevens’ didn’t know the name of who she spoke to, she offered details of the conversation to help identify them. Like O’Daniel and Tronrud, the responses from the community were supportive with offers of prayers and assistance as well as appreciation for the transparency.

On Nov. 23, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services sent out a call for Alaskans who test positive to notify their own close contacts. The surge in Alaska cases has strained the public health response, creating a backlog in case and contact investigations.

As of Nov. 26, the Alaska COVID-19 case count had risen to 28,892 along with 1,210 nonresident cases. Eleven of those cases were in Skagway.

If no more cases are reported, Skagway will be back to a cautious normal after Thanksgiving.

And Kaitlyn? She never saw anything more than mild symptoms, a runny nose and a sore throat. Once the symptoms appear, the isolation period starts over. If all goes well, Katlyn will be out of isolation two days after Thanksgiving. She doesn’t seem to mind the isolation.

“She likes it, she’s being served her food. She’s thirteen so she’s in her room a lot anyway,” said Tronrud.