Multiple residents close contacts, must quarantine

A University of Alaska student intern passing through Haines boarded an Alaska Seaplanes flight last week, despite testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, forcing nine other passengers into quarantine as close contacts. The 21-year-old intern was fired as a result.

Interim borough manager Alekka Fullerton said the student drove from Anchorage to Haines after being tested in Anchorage. He didn’t wait for his test result, Fullerton said, and found out he tested positive after arriving in Haines on Friday, Jan. 8.

Fullerton said she spoke with the man Friday night, and told him how he could get groceries and organize other accommodations during his required 10-day isolation period in a local hotel. “He confirmed that he knew he had to isolate for ten days,” Fullerton said. “He talked about renting an apartment. We said we could help him coordinate that.”

On Sunday, Jan. 10, the man, accompanied by his mother who traveled with him from Anchorage, boarded a Seaplanes flight bound for Juneau where he was supposed to intern for Rep. (D) Andy Josephson during the legislative session as part of a University of Alaska legislative intern program.

In an email to Josephson’s office on Sunday, Fullerton wrote that she was informed by Aspen Hotel staff that the intern was doing laundry and was “out and about” at the hotel.

“When confronted by the hotel staff that he was supposed to be isolating in his room, he got angry and left,” Fullerton wrote. “We do not know where he is and he is, apparently, out and about in our community as the only positive case of COVID-19 in our town. I have contacted the police.”

Police found his vehicle at the airport, Fullerton told the CVN.

When the man arrived in Juneau, police told him he had to isolate for 10 days, according to a Juneau Police Department spokesperson.

The intern declined to comment.

Josephson said the intern alerted his office that he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“He asked for advice for what to do,” Josephson said. “The advice was to follow the instructions from, principally, the (Haines) borough, but also Beacon, the testing contractor.”

The intern told Josephson’s office that he “was under a lot of financial pressure and could not afford to remain at the Aspen,” according to Elise Sorum-Birk, a Josephson staff member.

“He’s not going to be interning for me,” Josephson said.

Alaska Seaplanes general manager Carl Ramseth said all the passengers on the flight were considered close contacts by the public health nurse.

“Public health determined there was low risk of transmission because the positive person was asymptomatic and all were wearing masks,” Ramseth said. “Our pilot was scheduled to work two more days but we did not have him work, and had him tested on Tuesday afternoon with a negative result. (It’s) very frustrating when it happens with blatant disregard for the well-being of others.”

Eric Ferrin was one of those passengers. He was traveling to Juneau to get a CT scan at Bartlett Regional Hospital. After the scan, he was put on a Guardian Life flight to Providence where he required surgery to repair an aortic aneurism.

“That plane was full of other elders that could have impacted their lives dramatically, including mine,” Ferrin said. “I didn’t talk to anybody. I kept my distance. I kept my mask on and I just think it was pretty selfish on that kid’s part to why he thought he should get on the plane.”

At least two other Haines residents on the flight were forced to quarantine. Two Klukwan residents had traveled to Sitka for a medical appointment. They had to take a special chartered flight back to Haines. As of Tuesday, they were staying at the Captain’s Choice Motel while waiting to schedule a second test in town.