The Perfect Enemy | Juneau’s wastewater has four times as much COVID as the national average - KTOO
April 13, 2024
Signs along the beach behind the Juneau-Douglas Wastewater Treatment Plant indicate where treated wastewater flows into Gastineau Channel on March 18, 2021. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

This weekend marks the third anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the global pandemic — and Juneau’s wastewater is awash with COVID.

Charlee Gribbon is Bartlett Regional Hospital’s disease preventionist. She says only about 3% of COVID tests are coming back positive in the hospital’s lab — but the city and state no longer track cases closely, so most public health data gives an incomplete account of how many cases there are.

“Anecdotally, I would say that there are more cases being talked about than they are actually being confirmed,” she said.

There is one metric Gribbon said the public can rely on: Juneau’s wastewater has more than four times the national average of COVID-19 in it.

“I definitely take more impact from this because you’re not relying on people to go get tested or tell you that they’re sick, or even know that they have any symptoms,” Gribbon said.

Gribbon says Bartlett has five employees out sick this week. She said healthy people may be infected and show only minor symptoms, like a headache, but the hospital is still admitting an average of one to three people weekly with COVID-19.

“COVID really is affecting people over age 65,” she said. “They’re getting really sick, and they’re hypoxic, and they’re taking a long time to recover.”

She said she thinks it’s worth wearing masks in public if it means sparing older people from serious illness.

Gribbon says prevention is best, but antiviral medication is a useful tool for preventing serious illness if you do get COVID-19. It’s available in Juneau with a prescription from your primary care doctor.