EXPECT DELAYS – Lines of traffic move slowly down Sawmill Creek Road today as a repaving project progresses near the Indian River bridge. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Alaska Job Numbers Take Dive

By BECKY BOHRER
 
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska had 42,200 fewer jobs in April than a year earlier as coronavirus fears shut down or disrupted businesses at a time when many traditionally would start adding jobs for the summer, the state labor department reported Friday.

As restrictions ease, some of the jobs will return, but many seasonal jobs won’t happen this year, such as those serving the cruise ship industry, the report stated. 

Nearly 540 voyages to Alaska have been canceled, or 89% of expected sailings, according to Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. Streets that normally would be bustling with tourists in places like Juneau have been eerily quiet.

The upheaval was widespread, though the labor department said some sectors were hit harder. The leisure and hospitality industry, for example, saw its April job numbers cut nearly in half compared with April 2019. Retail had an estimated 5,000 fewer jobs, and construction, 1,800 fewer.

Health care had 3,600 fewer jobs, according to the report. The state earlier this month allowed elective procedures, which it had previously ordered delayed, to resume with additional protocols aimed at guarding against the virus. 

The only sector with more jobs than in April 2019 was the federal government, which had about 700 more because of Census hiring, the department reported.

Alaska’s April unemployment rate was 12.9%, compared with the national rate of 14.7%. It is the highest recorded rate for Alaska since reporting began in 1976, state labor department economist Karinne Wiebold said by email. The state’s rate in March was 5.2%, a low.

But she said comparing the virus-related shock to an oil-price related economic downturn “is like comparing apples and oranges.” The state hit an unemployment rate of 11.2% in 1986, which Wiebold said was the prior high and came during a oil-bust recession.

Dan Robinson, chief of research and analysis for the department, in a recent report cautioned against reading too much into Alaska’s unemployment rate. 

He said state and local rates are produced using models created by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that “struggle to capture short-term dramatic changes in the labor force, especially in small states with high seasonality like Alaska.” 

Job estimates and unemployment claims could be more helpful measurements in assessing the economy, he said.

Initial and continued unemployment claims, for the most recent reporting week, were sharply higher than a year ago.

Alaska has reported just over 400 cases of COVID-19, with 10 deaths. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Travis Smith, who co-owns two restaurants in Juneau, said he left town in December for a brief sabbatical after coming off what he called his “best year ever” in business. From afar, he said he watched as things fell apart “in a matter of weeks.”

The state in March ordered restaurants closed for dine-in services; drive-up, delivery and drive-through options remained. Though the state in late April began letting restaurants resume dine-in service with limits on capacity, Smith said, from a business standpoint it didn’t make sense. 

Smith’s restaurant, The Rookery Cafe, has a long, narrow flow and “you do have to do so much business to make these things make sense,” he said. It recently opened for takeout service. 

As of Friday, businesses in Alaska were allowed to fully reopen. State guidance says businesses should help individuals with “personal mitigation strategies,” such as encouraging face coverings, regular cleaning and finding ways for customers to keep distance from each other. 

Collette Costa, co-owner and manager of the Gold Town Nickelodeon, said she has projects she wants to work on at her Juneau theater but also would be cautious about reopening. The theater has been doing drive-in screenings. 

She said she doesn’t know what the future will hold for her industry.

“I just know that I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to get anyone sick,” she said.

 

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.

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– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-7-20)

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 11:20 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 53

Total statewide – 3,536

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 20 (14 resident; 6 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 141.

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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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

High prices for chum salmon, low pink returns, and record numbers of fish in Deep Inlet have turned the Sitka fishing grounds into Route 66 this summer. “Overall it’s been a fantastic season so far,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, operations manager for the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

His Beatitude, Metropolitan Ireney, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, will head a gathering of Orthodox prelates from North American and abroad in ceremonies canonizing the first American Orthodox saints, Father Herman of Alaska. A group of Sitkans will fly to Kodiak for the event.

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