New traveler recommendation creates testing gap in Haines
June 25, 2020
On Tuesday, the Haines Borough Assembly updated its 14-day quarantine recommendation to mirror the state’s new mandate for travelers entering Alaska.
Under current state mandates, travelers are able to avoid quarantining for 14 days through a two-tiered testing system—once before departure and again seven to 14 days after entering Alaska. A traveler who took a test within 72 hours of departure and tested negative is free to move about the community but should minimize interactions with others until they receive their second negative test result. Those traveling without having taken a test have the option of being tested at the airport and quarantining until the first result comes back.
Under the updated borough recommendation, travelers entering Haines from within Alaska are encouraged to either quarantine for 14 days or follow the two-tiered testing protocol outlined by the state. For example, to comply with the borough’s recommendation, a visitor from Anchorage should take a test within 72 hours of departure and again 7-14 days after they arrive in town, or quarantine for 14 days.
Currently, a traveler entering Haines would have difficulty complying with the testing option.
In general, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) clinic in Haines is not testing asymptomatic travelers from other Alaskan communities.
Health center director Lylith Widmer said individuals in this category are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the provider. An asymptomatic traveler who would like to be tested should call the clinic to set up an appointment.
While the state is covering the cost of testing for individuals entering Alaska, at present, there is no funding mechanism for testing intrastate travelers entering Haines, Widmer said.
The assembly is contemplating entering into a memorandum of understanding with SEARHC to expand asymptomatic COVID-19 testing at the clinic and using a portion of federal CARES Act funds to cover testing costs. Assembly members have asked the borough’s Emergency Operations Center to research gaps in testing at the clinic to help the borough determine a funding amount.
At present, COVID-19 testing at the clinic is guaranteed for those displaying symptoms and select groups of asymptomatic individuals including clinic employees, first responders, long-term care residents, dental patients, contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and travelers with state-issued testing vouchers.
“Anyone who has traveled and received a state-issued voucher simply needs to call the clinic. The front desk staff will schedule them for their test,” Widmer said.
Appointments for voucher testing are available Monday through Thursday. Patients will need to bring their voucher and fill out a waiver, but they will not be charged or asked to provide proof of health insurance.
For air travelers entering Alaska, airport staff will issue vouchers to cover the second test seven to 14 days after arrival. Vouchers are also available online through the traveler page on the state’s COVID-19 website.
Those entering Alaska via ferry or driving through Canada will also be able to opt out of the state’s 14-day quarantine through testing.
Like air travelers, drivers entering through Canada can avoid quarantine if they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entering the state. At the border, they will be provided with a travel declaration form and a voucher for testing. The U.S.-Canada border is currently closed to non-essential travel through July 21.
The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) recently announced it will implement a series of travel restrictions in an effort to mitigate COVID-19 risks, including a testing requirement within 72 hours of boarding a mainline ferry in Bellingham. Mainline ferries include the Matanuska, Kennicott and Tustumena. Travelers on longer voyages originating in Alaska will need to show a negative test administered within five days of departure or sign a statement that they have adhered to quarantine standards for the past 14 days.
Beginning in July, Haines will receive weekly port calls from the Matanuska. The five-day testing or 14-day quarantine requirement will apply to Matanuska passengers traveling from Haines to Bellingham. It will not apply to travelers bound for Juneau or other Southeast communities. At present, long-distance ferry travelers departing Haines may be able to receive a test at the discretion of a SEARHC health care provider and should set up an appointment to determine eligibility.
The ferry system has made several other changes to travel protocol. All passengers must complete a screening form prior to boarding. Passengers and crew will not be allowed to go ashore during port calls until they reach their final destination. All passengers and crew will be required to wear face masks and practice social distancing. Passenger numbers on the LeConte, which will call on Haines three to four times a week beginning in July, will be limited to 60, and the Matanuska will be limited to 125. AMHS recommends advanced reservations to secure travel arrangements.
On Monday, the Haines Borough reached a total of five positive COVID-19 cases—two Alaska residents and three nonresidents at the OBI Seafoods (formerly Ocean Beauty) plant in Excursion Inlet.
Haines’ first positive case was a male who was tested at the clinic on June 3 after displaying symptoms. The case was classified as an instance of community spread, which means the origin of the infection is unknown. The patient has since recovered.
The second positive was a woman in the 30-39 age range who was asymptomatic.
Widmer said she could not provide additional details about how the woman came to be tested at SEARHC without displaying symptoms. As of June 24, the case was still under investigation.
Three cases were reported on Monday at the Excursion Inlet plant. According to OBI, the employees were asymptomatic, tested as part of the company’s standard screening protocol during a 14-day quarantine period.