OPEN AIR CONCERT – From left, musicians Ross Venneberg, Brian Neal, Wade Demmert and Roger Schmidt perform an outdoor brass concert for residents of the Pioneers Home Monday. The professional musicians, who are hunkered down in Sitka, are regulars at the annual Holiday Brass Concert. The Pioneers Home has been closed to visitors during the pandemic. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Petition Seeks to Move Juneau’s Seward Statue

JUNEAU (AP) — Petitioners have called for the removal of a statue in Alaska depicting the U.S. cabinet secretary who arranged the purchase of the state’s land from Russia.

Juneau resident Jennifer LaRoe launched a petition last week to remove a statue of William H. Seward from a plaza in the state’s capital city, The Juneau Empire reported  Saturday.

More than 1,300 people had signed the petition as of Friday, although the online format does not require signers to be Alaska residents.

The $250,000 statue unveiled in 2017 depicts Seward holding the 1867 Treaty of Cession, which authorized the sale of the Alaska Territory to the U.S. from the Russian Empire.

The purchase arranged by the secretary of state was ridiculed at the time as “Seward’s Folly” by critics who also called the territory “Seward’s Icebox.”

The opposition to the statue is not based on Seward himself, said LaRoe, who acknowledged his role as an abolitionist in President Abraham Lincoln’s administration.

In this May 18 file photo, a statue of William Seward wears a mask outside the Alaska Capitol in Juneau. Petitioners have called for the removal of the statue depicting the U.S. cabinet secretary, Seward, who arranged the purchase of the state’s land from Russia. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

The statue is a symbol of white, patriarchal authority and the disenfranchisement of Alaska Natives, she said.

“(Alaska Natives) didn’t sell their land to the U.S., and that wrong has never been corrected,” LaRoe said.

The statue is owned by the State of Alaska, which also owns Dimond Courthouse Plaza where the statue is located, making the state responsible for its removal.

The petition was addressed to state Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Rep. Sara Hannan, both Democrats, whose districts include downtown Juneau.

Efforts to reach Kiehl and Hannan were not immediately successful.

LaRoe suggested replacing Seward’s statue with a monument to Alaska civil rights icon Elizabeth Peratrovich.

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl said removing the statue would be consistent with long-held views of Southeast Alaska Native residents.

“Seward embodied Manifest Destiny,” Worl said in a letter to the Juneau Empire. “His imperialistic vision was founded on white supremacy.”

Seward was an imperfect figure, but his legacy in Alaska is important, said Dave Rubin, the artist who crafted the statue with his sister, Judith.

Rubin said he is proud of his art but also wants to encourage discussion about Seward, who helped Lincoln produce the Emancipation Proclamation and sold land to Harriet Tubman that was used as part of the Underground Railroad.

“It is a complicated legacy,” Rubin said.

State Creating Jobs For Contact Tracing

By Morgan Krakow
Anchorage Daily News

As COVID-19 cases rise in Alaska, the state’s network of contact tracers are busy and public health officials are trying to bring on a crop of new epidemiology detectives.

“We do feel like we are nearing, if not at our capacity right now,” said Tari O’Connor, deputy director at Alaska’s Division of Public Health.

That’s based on what she’s heard from staff, though it’s hard to say exactly. The division is trying to stretch its current staff and is bringing in a large group of new contact tracers currently being hired and trained through a partnership with the University of Alaska Anchorage, O’Connor said.

An official with the Anchorage health department also described the city’s contact tracing capacity as “close to the max,” but said it is working with the state to build its capacity.

Alaska had 267 active cases of the virus on Saturday, according to state data, which the highest number of cases to date.

Investigating a COVID-19 case is detailed. Not only do people who test positive need monitoring, but so do all of their close contacts, with daily phone calls to ask about symptoms and whether they’re still quarantining.

Before the pandemic, a group of public health nurses and people from the Anchorage Health Department comprised the state’s 70 contract tracers, O’Connor said.

Since then, the state has expanded the workforce to 130 by hiring more people at the state and working with partners like the Maniilaq Association and the North Slope Borough, she said.

In Anchorage, the health department incorporated school nurses as contact tracers, and the state is also onboarding a group of school nurses from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, O’Connor said. Recently, the state began enlisting help from members of the Alaska National Guard, she said.

How long the state can maintain its tracing capacity depends on how many cases there are and how many people workers need to contact.

“I can’t say like, ‘We have this number and we can only handle that number,’ ” O’Connor said. “Those numbers are too squishy to be able to say that, but in terms of the feedback I hear from staff, it seems like we could certainly use the additional capacity right now.”

Originally, O’Connor said the goal was to have more people on board by the end of last month. But things are somewhat behind schedule as they roll out a new contact tracking application and train new tracers. That’s part of the reason they brought in members of the National Guard, she said.

The state is still contacting nearly all of the people who test positive for the illness within two hours of their result, O’Connor said. And she’s not aware of anyone who hasn’t been contacted.

As of last week, 385 people had registered for an online contact tracing program run by the University of Alaska College of Health, said Gloria Burnett, director of the Area Health Education Center.

The goal is to have 500 people ready by the end of June, Burnett said, to work on behalf of the state.

“We’re trying to get them through these trainings quickly so that we could deploy them as needed by the state because it’s sounding like that’s going to happen sooner rather than later.”

Members of the National Guard, school nurses and people recently hired by the state will also go through the training, she said. All contact tracing is done through the state health department’s Division of Public Health, she said.

The newly trained tracers will work on behalf of the state, but technically for the university because it received funds to hire the new team, Burnett said. They’ll be paid at an hourly rate based on past experience and how they do throughout the course, and receive a $100 stipend for completing it successfully.

The group will go through a training and hiring process first. And then they’ll be on standby, Burnett said. At weekly check-ins with the state, she’ll find out who is needed and where.

The new workforce through UAA will work remotely, she said but they’ll still consider the location of the tracers if they do get called up.

“No one knows that community better than people that live in it and no one is going to get people from that community to speak to them better than people within it,” Burnett said.

With the prospect of hundreds more tracers, the state is trying to build up an infrastructure that can accommodate the large group, O’Connor said — through a more coordinated system for tracking cases statewide.

It’s hard to estimate exactly what the state’s capacity is for contact tracing right now given their current system, O’Connor said. She said the estimate they have currently is 10 - 15 cases and or contacts per staff member, but the new tracking system will help give a more accurate picture.

They’re implementing an app purchased by the state called CommCare, which will help to manage information around all of the contacts and cases, O’Connor said.

The Anchorage Health Department was monitoring close to 400 cases and contacts on Friday, which means they were “pretty close to what would be considered our capacity,” said department director Natasha Pineda.

“We’re pretty close to a max but we are working to build more capacity and the state is working to bring on some tools and more support,” Pineda said. “So we’re hoping this is a temporary period.”

The job of effectively monitoring is a “a tremendous amount of work going on day and night,” said Dr. Bruce Chandler, the department’s chief medical officer.

“It’s taking a toll on the psyche of many of the people who are doing it,” he said.

The southern Kenai Peninsula had seen 72 cases of the virus by Wednesday, according Lorne Carroll, public health nurse III at the Homer Public Health Center which serves the southern part of the peninsula.

Among the four staff members, three are public health nurses. When they get notified of a new positive, the goal is to begin the case investigation within a half an hour. The initial phone call can take up to two and a half hours.

“It doesn’t take too many cases to overwhelm that one little piece of public health nursing service delivery,” he said.

But so far, things are going well. Carroll said they’ve coordinated with tracers from all over Alaska and worked locally in order to conduct swift tracing.

There’s serious coordination among the different public health nurses.

“So Fairbanks, they could call us up anytime and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a case and we can’t really get started within 30 minutes because we’re overwhelmed. Can you help us?’ ”

And then nurses in the southern Kenai Peninsula would help out.

In order to track cases, Carroll said they’re using a secure and central spreadsheet tool. CommCare will help keep track of that information, and relieve some of the steps needed to be completed by hand, he said.

Child Care Sector to Get More State Virus Funds

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska’s government has announced that child care providers will receive an additional $10.5 million from the state’s portion of federal coronavirus relief funds.

State Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said in a statement that the department and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy directed the additional funding to businesses providing child care, The Anchorage Daily News reported  Saturday.

“We found that the funding available to this sector was not coming fast enough,” Crum said.

Child care is critical to the economy because it allows parents to return to work, said Stephanie Berglund, CEO of thread, which provides a child care resource and referral network.

The programs need government assistance to survive the financial impact of the pandemic and “to provide strong child care infrastructure when this is all over,” Berglund said.

The state previously told licensed child care providers to expect more federal relief money than they eventually received.

The state’s Division of Public Assistance announced enough funding would be available to cover revenue losses among providers for March, April and May. But the funds only covered March payments with $6.5 million in federal funds and another $2.6 million in state money.

About half of Alaska’s child care providers temporarily shut their doors in March, while others operated with severe reductions, Berglund said.

About 69% are now open, but some have closed permanently, including at least five in Anchorage. Many of those remaining open operate at 30% to 50% capacity, Berglund said.

Regardless of capacity the revenue loss among providers continues as fewer families are sending children to care facilities because of health risks or an inability to afford the cost, Berglund said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.




Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 7-7-20)

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 11:15 p.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Sunday: 19

Total statewide – 1,184

Total (cumulative) deaths – 17

Active cases in Sitka – 8 (3 resident; 5 non-resident)

Recovered cases in Sitka – 12 (10 resident; 2 non-resident)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 78.

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.

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

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