For some in Haines, the arrival of COVID-19 one year ago felt like a seismic shift.

“I will never forget it. My daughter was in labor in Juneau. When she went into the hospital, everything was normal, and when she left, we were in lockdown. I cut Emilia Ann’s umbilical cord on March 16. On March 17, I was not allowed back in the hospital to see her,” Heather Lende said. She flew back to Haines the following day and hasn’t left town since.

Tourism director Steven Auch was on a trip to Florida to meet with cruise line executives in late February when he realized COVID-19 was likely coming to Haines.

“Having done a quick lap through the Lower 48 and southern Canada, watching it start to shut everything down, it was during that process that I was realizing how big it was becoming and how things were going to change,” he said.

In mid-March, the U.S. and Canadian governments announced a border closure, a closure that remains in effect. Auch said that was another clue for him that the pandemic was likely to stick around, at least for a little while.

“Initially, I thought it would impact the beginning of the summer, but I wasn’t at that point imagining it would shut down the entire season,” he said. Auch, who became the borough’s tourism director in October 2019, has yet to experience a typical tourism season.

Other residents said while they had an inkling that things were about to change, they had no idea how long it would last.

“When the (Southeast Alaska State) Fair Board decided to cancel Beerfest, which was mid-April, that was pretty destabilizing,” Maddy Witek said. “Up until then, the thought had been, ‘We all just need to hunker down for six weeks and get this under control,’ so I figured we would postpone the event to the fall or something like that.”

Witek said she remembers feeling confident in early March that the fair, her employer at the time, wouldn’t be affected. Six weeks later, her outlook had completely changed. “We announced that it was cancelled, and I was relieved. The tone of the world shifted so quickly that all of a sudden those decisions weren’t so difficult to make.”

In early March, borough and local health officials were having to decide how seriously to take the pandemic threat.

“The first time it hit me was when I was acting manager because Debra was on vacation the first part of March of 2020. During our weekly staff meeting, (fire chief) Al Giddings started laying out his quarantine plan for the ambulance crew, which included staying at a hotel for fourteen days. I remember thinking, ‘What are you talking about?’ I thought he was going way overboard,” interim manager Alekka Fullerton said. “I kept thinking, ‘Who is supposed to pay for this?’”

Debra Schnabel, who served as borough manager for the first two months of the pandemic, said she doesn’t remember being hit by the sudden realization that the pandemic was coming to Haines.

“As the manager when that started coming down, my attitude was one of conformance to state requirements, and secondarily trying to understand the community’s desired response. As with all things, the community was very vocal on both sides of the question,” Schnabel said, adding, “I think we’ve fared fairly well.”

The borough and state began easing quarantine and shelter in place requirements in April. Haines went without any reported COVID-19 cases until June 8. Since then, cases have cropped up in the community sporadically. Most have been isolated, without evidence of spread.

Haines has had a total of 22 documented resident cases—19 in state and three out of state, including one reported on Tuesday by an individual who tested while traveling outside Haines. The individual wasn’t in town while contagious, according to the Emergency Operations Center. The borough has had seven non-resident cases.

The Chilkat Valley has fared relatively well among Southeast towns.

Skagway, which went without a single reported case until Oct. 15, saw two travel-related cases become a six-person outbreak. As of Wednesday morning, the community had a total of 20 reported cases.

Petersburg has reported 146 resident cases and six nonresident cases. The municipality experienced a surge of cases in late February and early March due to community spread in multiple locations around town. The surge triggered the temporary closure of several businesses, and schools switched to remote learning.

Wrangell reports 26 resident cases and six nonresident cases. Yakutat, Hoonah and Angoon, combined, have seen 60 resident cases and 12 nonresident cases. Sitka has had 305 resident cases and 21 nonresident.

Haines officials said they’re still not sure why the community has fared so well, particularly during the early December natural disaster, which brought a large number of volunteers to town and forced residents to gather in crowded, public settings.

“I have no idea how we got out of December without a huge outbreak,” Fullerton said. She credits Haines’ relatively limited number of cases to the community’s isolation. Even without pandemic-related mandates, businesses and residents have been conscientious about shutting down and isolating, she said.

The borough has continued to relax COVID-19 travel and testing recommendations as more people have been vaccinated. At press time, 1,184 in the Chilkat Valley had received at least the first dose of the vaccine, and 1,088 had received both.