JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Some midsize coastal towns in Alaska have voiced opposition to state rules barring the communities from establishing their own restrictions on workers arriving for the fishing season.
Updated guidelines issued by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy say only the smallest, most isolated towns and villages can restrict travel or require mandatory quarantine for workers in industries the state deems critical during the coronavirus pandemic, CoastAlaska reported Wednesday.
The April 9 amendment allows special rules to be drafted only in communities with populations of less than 3,000 people, allowing them to “adopt travel restrictions that are more restrictive than otherwise permitted” under the state’s virus prevention regulations.
State officials ruled the city of Wrangell was not eligible to craft its own restrictions because it has a medical center.
In addition to a population ceiling, Dunleavy’s amended order defines small communities as those without “a Critical Access Hospital, Sole Community Hospital or Acute Care Hospital.”
For most people, new 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 state will not allow the island community of Petersburg to impose its own rules when out-of-town fishermen and processor workers arrive, emergency coordinator Karl Hagerman said.
Petersburg has a population of slightly more than 3,000 and a small hospital with three ventilators.
Petersburg would like the option of telling fishing industry workers, “You need to stay put so you don’t potentially spread this virus in our community,” Hagerman said.
“We don’t want to shut down our economy,” Hagerman said. “We want our fishing fleet to operate as best they can. But under the state mandates, we feel that there are loopholes that are just putting our community at risk.”
Fishing industry representatives are working with Dunleavy’s administration to craft a single, specific mandate for the fishing fleet that would streamline the process and protect communities, United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said.
“Quarantine is absolutely necessary and it’s going to be required for any fisherman coming into the state or moving through several communities,” Leach said.