Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Haines Borough issues disaster declaration

Grocers try to keep shelves stocked


March 19, 2020 | View PDF

Kyle Clayton

Toilet paper shelves in Howsers are emptied as shoppers panic-buy due to the virus.

Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill issued a declaration of emergency Tuesday as the state and nation adapt to a torrent of recommendations, mandates and information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The declaration, outlined in code, qualifies the borough to receive financial assistance from the federal government, borough manager Debra Schnabel said.

Schnabel has been meeting twice daily with public officials and others to plan and make decisions. The borough is already spending money on increased staff time and will purchase additional medical supplies such as protective equipment for emergency medical responders. Discussions have ranged from the potential need to issue a shelter-in-place directive to buying food in anticipation of shortages.

"At this stage we really are already talking about how do we get in contact with those supplies so we're standing ready," Schnabel said. "There are people who have suggested that we go ahead and purchase food for the community now. Those are all being considered."

The borough's Wednesday update asked the public to refrain from buying excessive food or supplies and said that officials don't expect supply chains to be interrupted.

Oleruds Market Center's Tyler Swinton said they've seen a huge increase in sales of canned goods and other non-perishable items. They're low on paper products, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, beans, rice and pasta.

He said Oleruds reserves the right to limit quantities of high demand products. "We believe that families with small children and senior citizens are affected most by this demand and we would like to ask that our customers shop with them in mind," Swinton said.

Howsers IGA manager Dylan Beckish said he's seeing shoppers "panic buy." The store is running out of rice, beans, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes, flour and sugar. Beckish said shoppers are buying things they might not need when they see sparse shelves.

"They're not looking for flour. They're not looking for sugar. But when they see this," Beckish said pointing to shelves with few sacks items remaining, "they buy them."

Howsers is limiting toilet paper purchases per customer and is removing sales on many products because of manufacturer shortages. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are sold out and aren't expected to be available for sale anytime soon as suppliers are directing those products to hospitals, Beckish said.

Shopper Dick Haas Wednesday afternoon had a cart full of groceries including multiple loaves of bread, bags of cereal and three cartons of eggs. He told the CVN he just received a tax return and had planned on doing a "big shop," but that the virus outbreak is influencing his shopping habits "just a little bit."

"It's better to have it than to not," Haas said.

Mountain Market will offer take-out café items only since Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday a statewide closure of bars and restaurants.

Other stores are closing all together. The Bookstore, which opened for the first time two weeks ago, closed its doors to the public. "In an effort to be proactive in this regard and encourage thoughtful social distancing, The Bookstore is closed," a sign entitled "Let's all stay Healthy!" reads on the shop's front door.

Klondike Chiropractic is open by appointment only and Thor's Fitness closed Wednesday because of the state's mandate to close fitness centers.

Last weekend, the Haines Borough began sending out daily emails updating residents on local coronavirus-mitigation efforts. Haines closed all of its facilities except for the library on Monday and requested that residents returning from international or national travel sequester themselves for two weeks. One by one, public meetings on the borough calendar have been postponed or canceled.

As of Wednesday, the borough canceled all non-essential meetings or gatherings until further notice, asked residents who have returned to Haines from overseas or via Seattle or Vancouver, or who have driven back from the Lower 48 to self-quarantine for 14 days. They've also asked residents to ask seasonal residents or visitors to refrain from traveling to Haines during the next two weeks.

All borough meetings are closed to the public. The pool, library, museum, Chilkat Center, Mosquito Lake Community Center and visitor center are all closed to the public. Arrangements for the March 24 assembly meeting will be announced in the coming days.

On Wednesday, March 11, Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a statewide public health emergency. At the time, there were no known cases of COVID-19 in Alaska. In the span of a week, the number of confirmed cases has climbed to six. Communities with confirmed cases are Anchorage, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.

During the past week, the state has issued a series of health alerts and mandates, cancelling events like the state high school basketball tournament and issuing guidelines restricting access to facilities including nursing homes and prisons. The state has mandated closure of other public facilities including libraries and museums and closure of all public schools in Alaska through the end of March. On Tuesday, the state ordered that restaurants and bars cease all dine-in service beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Communities including Anchorage, Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Ketchikan declared local emergencies and closed public facilities.

Emergency Operations Center members include: borough manager Debra Schnabel, contract administrator Carolann Wooton, clerk Alekka Fullerton, Margaret Friedenauer, retired fire chief Scott Bradford, Sean Gaffney, tourism director Steven Auch, public facilities director Ed Coffland, chief fiscal officer Jila Stuart and alternate Darwin Feakes.

The Canadian border closed Wednesday to nonessential travel.


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