Chamber Gets Advice on Reopening Practices

Category: Local News
Created on Thursday, 21 May 2020 16:08

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer

Keeping stores, shoppers, and workers safe from a possible COVID-19 outbreak while reopening dominated discussion led by the Sitka Health Summit Coalition at the teleconferenced Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday.

Public health nurse Denise Ewing advised businesses to continue with established social distancing practices.

“Stay six feet away from non-family members, wash your hands, wipe down touched surfaces, wear face coverings in public settings in close contact with others, and stay home when you’re sick, and be mindful and respectful of those who are more vulnerable,” Ewing told the online Chamber audience, echoing advice from the state government.

She said each added layer of precaution increases overall safety for all involved.

“Everything is a tool, and if you liken it to an onion, it’s just one more layer. So if you wear gloves, layers, if you sanitize it’s a layer, if you wear a mask, another layer. And so once those layers are set up, the safer we are,” she said.

Amber Rivera, left, and Ashia Lane stand at the counter of Old Harbor Books this afternoon. At Wednesday’s Chamber luncheon, members of the Sitka Health Summit Coalition discussed strategies for safely reopening Sitka businesses. Forty-nine people attended the Zoom presentation, which was recorded for those who were unable to attend. The Sitka Health Summit Coalition, in partnership with the Sitka Chamber of Commerce and the State of Alaska Division of Public Health Nursing, with financial support from Sitka Legacy Foundation, launched the Safe Stores, Shoppers and Workers Initiative to support Sitka businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

The previous day Gov. Dunleavy announced that more “reopening” measures, lifting mandates on non-essential businesses, would take effect Friday, May 22. Even so, speakers at the Chamber event advised people to continue to maintain social distancing, wear face masks and take other precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Ewing urged Sitkans to keep their masks clean, as dirt or hand oils reduce mask effectiveness.

Chandler O’Connell of the Sitka Conservation Society and Sitka Health Summit spoke on the results of a survey aimed at businesses and their virus-related concerns.

She said that of the 28 local businesses and organizations that replied to the survey, just over a third were open in a limited capacity, with another third closed but ready to reopen soon. O’Connell added that five of the responding organizations were closed and unsure when they will be able to reopen. O’Connell noted that the optional survey was conducted from May 5 to 12, and since then some state-level virus restrictions have been eased.

The survey also asked businesses what would make them feel more comfortable reopening. Items such as hand sanitizer and no-contact thermometers topped the list, O’Connell said.

“We chose materials based on what businesses themselves told us that they needed and would like to receive from an initiative like this,” she said.

Using information gleaned from the survey, she said the Sitka Health Summit is using grant money from the Sitka Legacy Foundation to purchase items for businesses to use. The requested items should begin to arrive next week, depending on availability. Businesses that accept this aid will not owe anything in return – O’Connell described the grant as “no strings attached.”

In addition, O’Connell said, more than half of surveyed businesses wanted some sort of signs to indicate whether wearing a mask is or is not required in that business. Signs are now in the process of being made and distributed, she said.

“Our goals in this project are to support local business and help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said. “We’re grateful to be able to provide some support, but we hope that this support will act as a buffer and allow people to fill gaps. We don’t expect to be able on an ongoing basis to fulfill business procurements needs. But we understand that supply chains are in flux… so our goal is to relieve a little pressure and provide some buffer to help folks adapt.”