Testing recommendation remains in 4-2 vote


October 29, 2020

A proposed revision to the resolution recommending travelers either test or quarantine when they enter the Haines Borough highlighted differing views between assembly members, with some stating that recommending travelers test and social distance when they enter the borough goes too far.

On Tuesday, the assembly approved 4-2 an amendment that essentially maintains the recommendation the borough has had in place for travelers since June--travelers are encouraged to test for coronavirus up to 72 hours before traveling to the borough and observe strict social distancing until they receive a second negative result from a test taken 7-14 days after entering the borough, or quarantine for 14 days.

The only difference now is that the recommendation no longer matches state requirements for travelers entering Alaska. On Oct. 16, the state stopped requiring a second test 7-14 days after a traveler arrives in the state. Instead, travelers are required to social distance for five days, the median incubation period for the disease.

Citing rising case numbers in Southeast communities including Juneau and Skagway, and rising case numbers around the state, the Haines Borough Emergency Operations Center (EOC) proposed amending the borough’s resolution to maintain the two-tiered testing recommendation in place before the state changed its mandate.

“I’m concerned. I’m truly concerned by the numbers I have seen, and I saw how easy it was for things to go sideways in Skagway over something as simple as a funeral. We all have lives, and we want to be able to protect our ability to function as normally as possible,” EOC incident commander Carolann Wooton said, speaking in support of the proposed revision. Skagway went from zero documented cases to nine in the span of a few days with some transmission believed to have occurred at a funeral.

EOC public information officer Alekka Fullerton said based on conversations with other public information officers across the state, her understanding is that the change to the state’s testing requirements was based on the surge in cases in places like Anchorage and Fairbanks.

“They have found they are no more likely to get cases from travelers than you are from walking through the streets of Anchorage. They have so much community transmission there that it didn’t make sense to continue to limit travelers,” Fullerton said. “It was also made very clear that (changes to mandate 10) were Anchorage- and Fairbanks-centric, and (the state) made it very clear that they wanted to make sure that smaller communities had the ability to keep these restrictions or add other restrictions.”

The assembly approved the resolution revision 4-2, with assembly members Paul Rogers and Gabe Thomas in opposition.

“I think this business of testing and isolation is something that you can choose to do, individually, as you see fit,” Rogers said, adding that for his family, complying with the recommendation would mean living in a state of constant isolation.

“(My wife) goes (to Juneau) every three weeks for cancer treatment. If she were to follow this recommendation, when she gets back, she would either need to test and wait seven to fourteen days and get a second test, or isolate for fourteen days, and then she’d get ready to go back to Juneau again,” Rogers said. “There’d be virtually no relief for a person who has to go to Juneau for treatment such as this on a monthly basis.”

Rogers also said he was concerned the language would be a slippery slope to eventual mandates.

Others at the meeting responded, saying that one of the benefits of the wording in the borough’s resolution is that it encourages people to follow a specific testing protocol, rather than requiring it.

“It’s a recommendation or an encouragement, and I believe in letting the public know what that gold standard is so those who are at the highest risk are protected,” assembly member Cheryl Stickler said, adding that “we all have the freedom to make our personal decisions.”

For some, an “official recommendation” from the borough seems like an empty gesture.

“So it’s just words?” Thomas said later in the meeting, asking for clarification before his “no” vote.

“Words matter,” Fullerton responded.

As of Wednesday morning, Haines had no active, documented coronavirus cases.


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