ON THE ROAD AGAIN – One of The RIDE buses goes down Katlian Street past the city boat grid this morning. After four months of being shut down because of antivirus precautions, the public transportation service resumed operations today. All routes remain the same except the Blue Line bus route, which now turns around at Whale Park instead of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Issues Caution: Mandates in Effect

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

 The third phase of the state’s “Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan” starts today, but City Administrator John Leach issued a reminder Wednesday that state mandates continue to require 14-day quarantines of workers arriving in Sitka.

A few Alaska Airlines passengers head to the baggage claim area after arriving in Sitka aboard a nearly empty plane recently. The requirement to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Sitka is still in effect. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

 Companies are required to reveal their quarantine plans for their incoming seasonal workers with the state and local communities affected.

Leach spoke about the quarantine issue at the beginning of Wednesday’s weekly meeting of the Unified Command, the local task force on Sitka’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Also providing updates in a round-table manner were representatives from SEARHC, schools, emergency response groups, and the public health office. 

 City Clerk Sara Peterson, the city’s public information officer on the COVID-19 emergency, provided an audio recording of the meeting for this story.

Leach at the meeting reminded the group about the expiration of the city’s “hunker down” resolution and the expiration of the city’s quarantine ordinance, but said similar requirements are in place through the state’s mandates.

 State Mandate 10 is set for another review on June 2. It requires a 14-day self-quarantine for those coming from outside Alaska, and for companies to create a plan to protect communities from the spread of coronavirus. 

“We’re getting a lot of questions about what’s open and what’s not open at city hall,” Leach  said.

 The administrator said he and department heads would discuss what, if any, changes the city would implement as a result of Phase III going into effect.

 “The bottom line is we still follow all of the OSHA, CDC and everybody else’s requirements and recommendations for social distancing,” Leach said. “Businesses and all entities out there will still have the choice on whether or not they want to open and whatever measures they want to put in place to comply.”

The state website said:

“Effective Friday May 22, 2020, Alaska is open for business:

- All businesses can open

- All houses of worship can open

- Libraries and museums can open

- All recreational activities can open - All sports activities can open”

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said there are  some exceptions to the overall plan, and some conditions that apply for certain activities to resume.

“Exceptions and restrictions are the 14-day quarantine for interstate travel and international travel to Alaska still remains in place and they’ll look at that and reevaluate on June 2nd to see if that needs to be changed,” she said.

Restricted access continues for senior centers, prisons and institutions, she said. “That’s our Pioneer Home and the Sitka Long-Term Care.” 

 Those planning any large public gathering – festivals and concerts – need to consult with the Division of Public Health.

“Communities may elect to keep in place certain travel restrictions,” Ewing said. She added Mandates 15, 17 and 18 remain in effect, related to medical and dental services, commercial fishing and travel.

City Clerk Sara Peterson in her presentation said the city will continue to push precautions, such as face coverings, hand washing and social distancing, as the city opens up.

 “That will be – could be – a little bit of a challenge in the future,” she said. “I’ve received a number of inquiries from citizens who are anxious about the June 2nd possible expiration on Health Mandate 10, the mandatory quarantine. We’ll see how that goes.”

 Peterson said that as acting city information officer she will be getting help from the new library director.

Richard Wein, the Assembly liaison to the group, spoke about the Assembly work session the previous night on how the city’s CARES Act funding will be distributed in the community.

“I feel (Unified Command) need to come up with ... a mitigation list that deals with obtaining and stockpiling protective gear in all of its forms, obtaining and stockpiling a reasonable amount of food supply, as crazy as it seems,” he said.

Planning for the longer-term – and taking into account Sitka’s isolation – would be a good idea, he said. 

“There might be surges, and there might be a second wave, there might be a third wave,” Wein said. “This can go on for years. This can be seasonalized. ... (funds) need to be spent wisely.”

In other discussion about CARES Act funds, Sitka Tribe of Alaska General Manager Lisa Gassman and Leach agreed to meet briefly after the meeting to update each other on city and STA discussions.

 STA has received just under $7.3 million in funds designated for tribal governments, and the city is slated to receive $14 million for the entire community. Gassman said the STA finance committee has reviewed recommendations and discussions are ongoing; and city officials are forming a working group to discuss funding categories and amounts, which will be brought back to the Assembly for final approval.

Representing the School District, Co-Assistant Superintendent Phil Burdick said the district is preparing for the coming school year.

“Alaska School Leadership Institute, which in the past has been about professional learning and leadership, this year is dedicated to COVID planning for opening schools next year,” he said. District officials are hearing from teachers and staff about what distance education programs worked in the continuation of classes after the school buildings closed, he said.

“I’m doing that through the end of May,” he said. “And then what training and resources are necessary for the fall.”

Starting in July interim superintendent John Holst will lead a district planning team on decisions and plans for the start of classes in the fall. 

“CDC guidelines recommend being able to monitor student and teacher health as people come to school and I don’t know how we’re going to do that at all, unless things change radically between now and August,” Burdick said. “So there’s still – in my mind, this is just an opinion, not the district’s stance – that it’s 50-50, whether we’re going to be starting school in the fall, in person. I just don’t see how we’ll be able to follow all the guidelines.”

Burdick mentioned some of the challenges of spacing the kids and desks a social distance apart in classrooms. He said currently guidelines call for both teachers and students to wear face masks.

He also reported the state was successful in getting a waiver under which Sitka is continuing to provide free and reduced meal service through June 30.

 “We’re meeting next week about whether and how to open the pool,” Burdick said, “and Ventures is looking at an early June target date to open with limited students who have high needs, parents who are emergency workers, single parents, etcetera.”

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC marketing and communications director, said daycare has been a subject of discussion among providers, employees and parents.

 “Daycares are really stressed ... and they don’t know if they’ll be able to stay open because of the limited number of children that can be in the facility and if that will pay for them,” she said. “So we’ve got two centers and kids all over town with no place to go. And parents that would like to keep working.”

“The safety and the guidelines - everything is just so tricky,” agreed Burdick.

Still undecided is the question of whether school buildings will open in the fall.

Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller, the city’s emergency manager during the pandemic, commented, “It’s a big decision maker ... what happens with the virus over the next couple of months. Does it climb, does it not. ... If we stay normal, school could potentially open.” 

As an aside, a few of those at the meeting said they appreciated the in-car parade for Sitka High graduates, a multiagency effort by the community.

 Thor Christianson, who is the logistics section chief on the task force, raised concerns about the quality of personal protective equipment increasingly available from companies he is not familiar with.

 “Most of these companies, I’ve never heard of,” he said. “Considering our situation, I’m waiting until I can order them from somebody I know. I’d say (since) we’re not critical ... we just wait until we can get them from our normal supply chain.”

Maegan Bosak said SEARHC is continuing to respond to the changing state health mandates related to health care, and continuing its work to keep facilities safe. Commenting on SEARHC’s policy of mandatory testing of all of the health consortium’s providers and staff, Bosak said:

“We will continue testing every two weeks, so that has been a change that has been pretty positive with our employees. We’re continuing to push messages about work that SEARHC has done to keep our healthcare facilities safe for every resident,”

 

 

 

 

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-13-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:30 a.m. Monday.

New cases as of Sunday: 60

Total statewide – 1,539

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 4 (2 resident; 2 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 14 (11 resident; 3 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 87.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

 

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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