ALL IN THE SAME TACO BOAT – Sitkans, many wearing face masks, line up this afternoon at the Sitka Elks Lodge food booth. With the pandemic, most of this year’s Sitka Independence Day events have been modified, but not entirely canceled. The American Legion and Sizzling Chow Cuisine also will have outdoor food booths. While there’s no downtown parade, there is a parade of classic cars that will tour Sitka streets beginning at 1 p.m. at Whale Park. A sing-along and military salute will take place on Totem Square 7 p.m. Friday and a fireworks display will take place 11:30 Friday night over Sitka Channel, with spectators asked to follow social distancing recommendations. The Rotary Club is holding its annual Duck Race on the fourth. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

PFD Checks Smaller But Can Be Big Help

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Downtown Anchorage street musician Cal Austermuhl had good reason to be singing the blues Wednesday, the same day the state of Alaska began distributing $992 checks that will be paid to nearly every resident.

“Mine’s already spent,” he said of his share of the state’s oil wealth fund. “It goes to outstanding bills.”

Austermuhl relies on performances at bars and markets and tips from summer tourists to supplement his income. But amid coronavirus concerns this year, that’s a tough proposition.

As he sang a Jeff Healy Band ballad, a few people donning masks dropped dollars into his guitar case. Otherwise the streets were nearly empty after most cruise ship companies canceled their summer season, eliminating nearly half of the vacation plans for the 2.2 million tourists that annually visit Alaska.

The oil-wealth check, which some in Alaska see as an entitlement, typically is derived from the earnings of a nest-egg investment account the state has seeded with oil money. The fund was established during construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline in the 1970s. 

This year’s check was paid in part using a separate savings account.

Residents received the first check, $1,000, in 1982. Amounts have varied over the years, and traditionally were calculated on a five-year rolling average to buffer downturns in the economy. 

This is the smallest check since $900 was paid in 2013. The biggest check was $2,072 in 2015. The following year, amid a budget deficit, then-Gov. Bill Walker reduced by roughly half the amount available for checks, leaving the rest in the fund’s earnings in reserve. 

Since then, the size of the check has been set by lawmakers, who in 2018 began using some of the fund’s earnings to help pay government costs. Lawmakers also passed a law seeking to limit withdrawals from earnings, heightening tension between how much should be used on dividends and how much should go to state government as the deficit persists.

Some lawmakers worry that if the Legislature takes too much from the earnings reserve, it could imperil future dividends.

The size of the dividend has become a political issue. Checks this year would have been about $3,060 if the calculation had been followed. 

“I think that sucks,” James Grim said as he wiped down his red 1968 Pontiac Catalina convertible at an Anchorage car wash. “It wasn’t set up for the government to get their hands on it. It was set up for the people of Alaska.”

Regardless of the check size, dividend day is a big one for Alaska retailers. “We direct deposited $512,474,838.56 today. Paper checks also went out, for a total payment amount of $592,360,237.82,” Anne Weske, the director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Some residents use the money for new toys, like big screen televisions or new snowmobiles, and others fund college savings accounts for children or donate to charities. Other residents, especially those in rural Alaska villages off the road system, use the money to pay high fuel bills or help supplement food items at grocery stores, where staples like milk can go for $10 a gallon.

The checks are normally distributed in early October, but this year Gov. Mike Dunleavy moved the distribution date up to help provide relief amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus. The dividend also comes a day after the expiration of a mandate from the Legislature that prevented automobile repossession and evictions for not paying rent.

“It’s a nice little shot,” said Mike Miller, a bartender at Flattop Pizza in downtown Anchorage. “I think it’s cool that they decided to give it early this year, you know, because of what’s going on.”

He was luckier than most, receiving extended unemployment benefits. His partner was an essential employee as a case manager at a women’s shelter.

But now that he’s back to work, the benefits are ending and there just aren’t the customers around to make up that cash flow.

“The people just aren’t downtown,” he said noting that includes tourists and office employees still working from their homes.

“When the dividend checks come in, you know, everybody’s a thousandaire for a couple few days,” he said, standing in an empty restaurant during what would typically be the noon rush hour. “And a lot of time, like me, they’re going to go spend it at the bar. Fingers crossed, we get a little hit from that.”


State Gets 36 Cases In One Day, a Record

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska reported its largest one-day increase in coronavirus cases among residents today, with 36.

The state has reported 940 total cases among residents and 194 among nonresidents. It has reported 14 deaths.

Many of the new reported cases were in the municipality of Anchorage, which on Monday began ordering use of masks in certain indoor public settings, such as shops, restaurants and public transit. Alaska’s attorney general said the order does not apply to state offices there, a point the municipal attorney disputes.

The state health department has warned there is widespread COVID-19 activity throughout Alaska and urged people to maintain physical distance, wear face coverings, wash their hands and get tested if they experience symptoms.

The figures may not capture all infections because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. 

Independence Day festivities have been canceled in Seward amid virus concerns, and Juneau’s fireworks show was canceled after the local assembly failed to agree on a proposed mask mandate for spectators.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Juneau Cancels Fireworks After Mask Mandate Fails

JUNEAU (AP) — Juneau’s fireworks show has been canceled after assembly members failed to agree on a masking requirement for spectators. 

The assembly previously agreed to allow the show, which was scheduled to begin July 3 at 11:59 p.m. to celebrate Independence Day. But that vote was with the understanding the city would require people in attendance to wear masks, KTOO Public Media reported.

A mask mandate required passage of an ordinance, and the assembly on Monday did not have the votes needed for that measure to pass. The proposed ordinance stated that those who didn’t wear a mask while outside to watch the show would be subject to a $25 fine.

The city released a statement Tuesday apologizing for any confusion after saying last week the show would take place. 

Assembly member Maria Gladizewski last week voted to hold the fireworks show but on Monday voted against the mask order. She said she had changed her mind about encouraging the public to gather while the coronavirus remains a concern in Alaska.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. 



Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-2-20)

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 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.

New cases as of Monday: 39

Total statewide – 1,017

Total (cumulative) deaths – 14

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (6 resident; 2 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 10 (7 resident; 3 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 68.

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



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



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 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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