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)

Tribes Seek Fast Action In Getting Virus Funds

By FELICIA FONSECA
 
The Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Tribes urged the federal government to quickly disburse coronavirus relief funding after a judge handed them an early victory in a case centered on who is eligible for a share of the $8 billion allocated to tribes.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of the tribes late Monday in their bid to keep Alaska Native corporations from getting any of the money — at least for now. The decision clears the U.S. Treasury Department to send payments to 574 federally recognized tribes to response to the coronavirus.

At least 18 tribes sued the Treasury Department, alleging that Congress intended the funding to go only to tribal governments. They said the corporations that own most of the Native land in Alaska don’t fit within the definition of “Indian Tribe” in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law last month.

Mehta said the tribes easily showed they would suffer irreparable harm unless he limited the funding temporarily to tribal governments while he awaited more argument on the question of eligibility of Alaska Native corporations. 

“These are monies that Congress appropriated on an emergency basis to assist tribal governments in providing core public services to battle a pandemic that is ravaging the nation, including in Indian Country,” Mehta said.

The U.S. Justice Department, which represented Treasury, declined comment Tuesday. The Treasury Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Justice Department attorney Jason Lynch had argued that the Treasury Department’s decision to include Alaska Native corporations wasn’t subject to judicial review because the funding is for a public health emergency. Mehta rejected the argument. 

The Treasury Department has said it could start sending payments to tribes Tuesday — two days past the deadline in the coronavirus relief bill. But it has not said how it would determine who gets what.

Congress set aside $8 billion for tribes in the $2.2 trillion bill. Mehta did not order the Treasury Department to disburse all the money to tribal governments. 

Harry Pickernell Sr., chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Washington state, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“This ruling will help tribal governments to lead in the aid and recovery of their people,” he said in a statement.

The tribes that have sued are in Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Washington state.

Alaska Native corporations are unique to Alaska and own most of the Native land in the state under a 1971 settlement known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Mehta said neither the corporations nor the Treasury Department showed the corporations are providing public services comparable to tribal governments to combat the coronavirus.

The corporations, which are not parties to the lawsuit, have said they support Alaska Natives economically, socially and culturally. 

Two associations that together represent most of the corporations — the ANCSA Regional Association and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association — said they believe the corporations ultimately will be deemed eligible for funding. 

“This will mean a delay in necessary resources and economic assistance for Alaska Native people in our communities and our state,” the groups said. “However, Alaska Native people have a history of resilience and strength. Together we will prevent the spread of COVID-19, care for those who get sick, and repair our economies.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

 

Alaska Native Groups Lose Virus Aid Ruling

By FELICIA FONSECA
 
The Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A judge has ruled in favor of tribal nations in their bid to keep Alaska Native corporations from getting a share of $8 billion in coronavirus relief funding — at least for now.

In a decision issued late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, D.C., said the U.S. Treasury Department could begin disbursing funding to 574 federally recognized tribes to respond to the coronavirus but not to the corporations.

The ruling comes in a case brought by at least 15 tribes against the Treasury Department. The tribes allege that Congress intended the funding to go only to tribal governments and that the corporations don’t fit within the definition of “Indian Tribe” in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Mehta said the tribes easily showed they would suffer irreparable harm unless he limited the funding temporarily to tribal governments while he awaited more argument on the question of eligibility of Alaska Native corporations. 

“These are monies that Congress appropriated on an emergency basis to assist tribal governments in providing core public services to battle a pandemic that is ravaging the nation, including in Indian Country,” Mehta said.

The Treasury Department and the U.S. Justice Department representing the Treasury did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Justice Department attorney Jason Lynch had argued that the Treasury Department’s decision to include Alaska Native corporations wasn’t subject to judicial review because the funding is for a public health emergency. Mehta rejected the argument. 

The Treasury Department has said it could start sending payments to tribes Tuesday — two days past the deadline in the coronavirus relief bill. But it has not said how it would determine who gets what. 

Harry Pickernell, Sr., the chairman of the lead plaintiff tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Washington state, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“This ruling will help tribal governments to lead in the aid and recovery of their people,” he said in a statement.

Alaska Native corporations are unique to Alaska and own most of the Native land in the state under a 1971 settlement known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Mehta said neither the corporations nor the Treasury Department showed the corporations are providing public services comparable to the tribes to combat the coronavirus.

The corporations, which are not parties to the lawsuit, have said they support Alaska Natives economically, socially and culturally. 

Two associations representing some of the corporations — the ANCSA Regional Association and the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association — said they believe the corporations ultimately will be deemed eligible for funding. 

“This will mean a delay in necessary resources and economic assistance for Alaska Native people in our communities and our state,” the groups said. “However, Alaska Native people have a history of resilience and strength. Together we will prevent the spread of COVID-19, care for those who get sick, and repair our economies.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death. The vast majority of people recover.

 

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.”

___

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

___

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

 

______________________

 

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

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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