City Issues Caution: Mandates in Effect

Category: Local News
Created on Friday, 22 May 2020 16:07

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

 The third phase of the state’s “Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan” starts today, but City Administrator John Leach issued a reminder Wednesday that state mandates continue to require 14-day quarantines of workers arriving in Sitka.

A few Alaska Airlines passengers head to the baggage claim area after arriving in Sitka aboard a nearly empty plane recently. The requirement to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Sitka is still in effect. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

 Companies are required to reveal their quarantine plans for their incoming seasonal workers with the state and local communities affected.

Leach spoke about the quarantine issue at the beginning of Wednesday’s weekly meeting of the Unified Command, the local task force on Sitka’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Also providing updates in a round-table manner were representatives from SEARHC, schools, emergency response groups, and the public health office. 

 City Clerk Sara Peterson, the city’s public information officer on the COVID-19 emergency, provided an audio recording of the meeting for this story.

Leach at the meeting reminded the group about the expiration of the city’s “hunker down” resolution and the expiration of the city’s quarantine ordinance, but said similar requirements are in place through the state’s mandates.

 State Mandate 10 is set for another review on June 2. It requires a 14-day self-quarantine for those coming from outside Alaska, and for companies to create a plan to protect communities from the spread of coronavirus. 

“We’re getting a lot of questions about what’s open and what’s not open at city hall,” Leach  said.

 The administrator said he and department heads would discuss what, if any, changes the city would implement as a result of Phase III going into effect.

 “The bottom line is we still follow all of the OSHA, CDC and everybody else’s requirements and recommendations for social distancing,” Leach said. “Businesses and all entities out there will still have the choice on whether or not they want to open and whatever measures they want to put in place to comply.”

The state website said:

“Effective Friday May 22, 2020, Alaska is open for business:

- All businesses can open

- All houses of worship can open

- Libraries and museums can open

- All recreational activities can open - All sports activities can open”

Public Health Nurse Denise Ewing said there are  some exceptions to the overall plan, and some conditions that apply for certain activities to resume.

“Exceptions and restrictions are the 14-day quarantine for interstate travel and international travel to Alaska still remains in place and they’ll look at that and reevaluate on June 2nd to see if that needs to be changed,” she said.

Restricted access continues for senior centers, prisons and institutions, she said. “That’s our Pioneer Home and the Sitka Long-Term Care.” 

 Those planning any large public gathering – festivals and concerts – need to consult with the Division of Public Health.

“Communities may elect to keep in place certain travel restrictions,” Ewing said. She added Mandates 15, 17 and 18 remain in effect, related to medical and dental services, commercial fishing and travel.

City Clerk Sara Peterson in her presentation said the city will continue to push precautions, such as face coverings, hand washing and social distancing, as the city opens up.

 “That will be – could be – a little bit of a challenge in the future,” she said. “I’ve received a number of inquiries from citizens who are anxious about the June 2nd possible expiration on Health Mandate 10, the mandatory quarantine. We’ll see how that goes.”

 Peterson said that as acting city information officer she will be getting help from the new library director.

Richard Wein, the Assembly liaison to the group, spoke about the Assembly work session the previous night on how the city’s CARES Act funding will be distributed in the community.

“I feel (Unified Command) need to come up with ... a mitigation list that deals with obtaining and stockpiling protective gear in all of its forms, obtaining and stockpiling a reasonable amount of food supply, as crazy as it seems,” he said.

Planning for the longer-term – and taking into account Sitka’s isolation – would be a good idea, he said. 

“There might be surges, and there might be a second wave, there might be a third wave,” Wein said. “This can go on for years. This can be seasonalized. ... (funds) need to be spent wisely.”

In other discussion about CARES Act funds, Sitka Tribe of Alaska General Manager Lisa Gassman and Leach agreed to meet briefly after the meeting to update each other on city and STA discussions.

 STA has received just under $7.3 million in funds designated for tribal governments, and the city is slated to receive $14 million for the entire community. Gassman said the STA finance committee has reviewed recommendations and discussions are ongoing; and city officials are forming a working group to discuss funding categories and amounts, which will be brought back to the Assembly for final approval.

Representing the School District, Co-Assistant Superintendent Phil Burdick said the district is preparing for the coming school year.

“Alaska School Leadership Institute, which in the past has been about professional learning and leadership, this year is dedicated to COVID planning for opening schools next year,” he said. District officials are hearing from teachers and staff about what distance education programs worked in the continuation of classes after the school buildings closed, he said.

“I’m doing that through the end of May,” he said. “And then what training and resources are necessary for the fall.”

Starting in July interim superintendent John Holst will lead a district planning team on decisions and plans for the start of classes in the fall. 

“CDC guidelines recommend being able to monitor student and teacher health as people come to school and I don’t know how we’re going to do that at all, unless things change radically between now and August,” Burdick said. “So there’s still – in my mind, this is just an opinion, not the district’s stance – that it’s 50-50, whether we’re going to be starting school in the fall, in person. I just don’t see how we’ll be able to follow all the guidelines.”

Burdick mentioned some of the challenges of spacing the kids and desks a social distance apart in classrooms. He said currently guidelines call for both teachers and students to wear face masks.

He also reported the state was successful in getting a waiver under which Sitka is continuing to provide free and reduced meal service through June 30.

 “We’re meeting next week about whether and how to open the pool,” Burdick said, “and Ventures is looking at an early June target date to open with limited students who have high needs, parents who are emergency workers, single parents, etcetera.”

Maegan Bosak, SEARHC marketing and communications director, said daycare has been a subject of discussion among providers, employees and parents.

 “Daycares are really stressed ... and they don’t know if they’ll be able to stay open because of the limited number of children that can be in the facility and if that will pay for them,” she said. “So we’ve got two centers and kids all over town with no place to go. And parents that would like to keep working.”

“The safety and the guidelines - everything is just so tricky,” agreed Burdick.

Still undecided is the question of whether school buildings will open in the fall.

Sitka Fire Chief Dave Miller, the city’s emergency manager during the pandemic, commented, “It’s a big decision maker ... what happens with the virus over the next couple of months. Does it climb, does it not. ... If we stay normal, school could potentially open.” 

As an aside, a few of those at the meeting said they appreciated the in-car parade for Sitka High graduates, a multiagency effort by the community.

 Thor Christianson, who is the logistics section chief on the task force, raised concerns about the quality of personal protective equipment increasingly available from companies he is not familiar with.

 “Most of these companies, I’ve never heard of,” he said. “Considering our situation, I’m waiting until I can order them from somebody I know. I’d say (since) we’re not critical ... we just wait until we can get them from our normal supply chain.”

Maegan Bosak said SEARHC is continuing to respond to the changing state health mandates related to health care, and continuing its work to keep facilities safe. Commenting on SEARHC’s policy of mandatory testing of all of the health consortium’s providers and staff, Bosak said:

“We will continue testing every two weeks, so that has been a change that has been pretty positive with our employees. We’re continuing to push messages about work that SEARHC has done to keep our healthcare facilities safe for every resident,”