NEW ROUND – Sitka Fire Chief Craig Warren chats with Patrick and Catharine Weaver this afternoon at the fire hall during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The Weavers were waiting fifteen minutes after receiving the Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 100 Sitkans were scheduled to receive their first dose today. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses for full efficacy. Sitkans can sign up to receive vaccinations at covid19.searhc.org. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

In Rural States, Threat of Virus Seems Remote

By MATTHEW BROWN and AMY BETH HANSON
The Associated Press

ROUNDUP, Mont. (AP) — Traffic got a little busier along Main Street, but otherwise, it was hard to tell that coronavirus restrictions were ending in the tiny Montana town of Roundup. 

That’s because it’s largely business as usual in the town of 1,800 people. Nonessential stores could reopen as a statewide shutdown ended this week, but most shops in Roundup — the pharmacy, the hardware store, two small grocers — were essential and never closed. 

A florist and a thrift shop reopened Monday, apparently two of the only stores that had to shut down at all. Bars and restaurants remain shuttered and getting takeout is still the only option until May 4, when they can open with restrictions.

Parts of the U.S. are starting to lift closures, and some of the quickest to do so have been rural states like Montana, Vermont and Alaska. The effects of the pandemic in small towns can seem a world away from cities grappling with overwhelmed hospitals, packed morgues and economies pushed to the brink.

The consequences of easing restrictions in rural communities won’t be fully known for some time, and health officials said they will be watching for a resurgence of infections. 

But for now, there’s little doubt in places like Roundup that it was the right thing to do after weekslong stay-at-home orders.

“We don’t have the fear of the virus. It’s been more concern about our shut-ins and older people who can’t come out,” said Shannon Thompson, who works in the deli at Picchioni’s IGA supermarket and has two sons home with school still canceled.

The coronavirus is largely a distant threat that so far has touched few people here directly. Face masks are a novelty, and greetings often still come with a handshake. 

Despite some grumbling that the lockdown was too harsh, most people cooperated, county commissioner Adam Carlson said.

Thompson said she practices social distancing and “we’re all doing what we’re supposed to do.”

By contrast, in some rural parts of states where stay-at-home orders remain in place, local leaders have pledged defiance. The mayor of Grants, New Mexico, population 9,000, led a rally Monday where dozens urged nonessential businesses to reopen.

Only a fraction of people in the state have been infected by COVID-19, and it doesn’t make sense to keep small businesses closed, Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said. New Mexico has more than 2,800 confirmed cases of the virus and 104 deaths.

“The governor is killing the state over a little bug,” he said before heading to the city-owned golf course, where about 20 people were playing despite a warning by state police for the facility to close.

For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older people and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. 

In California, six rural counties with a combined 500,000 people asked Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday if they could begin a “careful and phased reopening,” even as counties in the San Francisco Bay Area moved to extend their stay-at-home orders through May.

In small Alaska towns, some restaurants resumed dine-in service Friday, while shops, personal care services and other nonessential businesses reopened with limits. Rules still restrict how many people can be in a shop at once, and no waiting is allowed in salons.

In Vermont, people can shop at outdoor retailers, and five people can work at the same outdoor worksite. Manufacturing and indoor construction also can expand.

Mike MacLeod, who owns a garden center just south of the resort town of Stowe, said the phone began ringing within minutes of the governor’s announcement Friday loosening the restrictions.

“People are getting into their gardens,” he said. “One of the things they can do is work on the gardens and beautify their houses.”

Being remote and sparsely populated helps towns avoid infections, said Dr. Marc Mentel, president of the Montana Medical Association. 

Yet a rural ZIP code is no magic shield and carries its own disadvantage: fewer medical resources. That can make outbreaks difficult to contain, such as the infections that swept through an assisted living facility in recent weeks in another small Montana town, Shelby, leading to six deaths.

“No matter where you are, this is a dangerous virus,” Mentel said. “The risk is low, but if something takes off in rural America, it could be devastating.” 

Gov. Steve Bullock credits an early lockdown with pushing down Montana’s infection rate and helping it reopen before other states.

“That’s what got us to this point, more than the rural nature of our state,” the Democratic governor said Monday. 

Montana has one of the nation’s lowest per capita death rates from the virus. The rate of confirmed infections has declined since peaking at 124 cases a week in late March and early April. There were 15 new cases last week, health officials said.

But not every business is throwing open its doors.

In Montana’s capital of Helena, the Lasso the Moon toy store was open, but its doors were locked. Customers had to knock to be let in, up to four at a time, as long as they were wearing masks. 

Owner Amy Barrett said the door is locked to give employees time to don masks. Her wariness reflected the uncertainty of many small-business owners allowed to reopen.

“We’re still unsure quite how open to be,” Barrett said. “I don’t know how many people are going to want to come in.”

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Hanson reported from Helena. Associated Press writers Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, and Russell Contreras in Grants, New Mexico, contributed to this report. 

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This story has been corrected to show Picchioni’s IGA supermarket was misspelled Picchinoni’s.

 

August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 1-15-21)

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 10:55 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 296

Total statewide – 49,835

Total (cumulative) deaths – 228

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 1,126

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

The City of Sitka posted the following update on COVID-19 cases in Sitka as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

Active cases in Sitka – 17

Hospitalizations (cumulative) in Sitka – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 301 (274 resident; 27 non-resident)

Cumulative recovered – 281

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

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20 YEARS AGO
January 2001

Photo caption: Sarah and Jeremy Pickard and Dr. James Brooks show off Lauren Marie Pickard, the first baby born in Sitka this year. She arrived at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital at 10:05 a.m., Jan. 4, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces and measuring 20 inches. She’s the first child for the Pickards,who moved here in May with the U.S. Coast Guard.

50 YEARS AGO
January 1971

Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Foster and daughter Marchele have ended a two-week vacation trip to Idaho. They bought a new Mustang in Seattle, drove it to Sandpoint, Idaho, to visit relatives and stopped in Everett, Wash., to visit Mrs. Foster’s cousin, whom she hadn’t seen in 13 years. Mrs. Foster and Marchele returned by plane and Foster is following with the car, on the ferry.

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