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Here's What You Need To Know About COVID-19 In The Y-K Delta

Bethel organizations react to the threat of COVID-19.
Petra Harpak
/
KYUK

With the first case of coronavirus now confirmed in Alaska, Bethel organizations and businesses are taking steps to prevent an outbreak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. 

 

Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation

 

Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation Chief of Staff Ellen Hodges says that COVID-19 will eventually reach the Y-K Delta. The hospital's goal is to spread the cases out over a longer period of time rather than have a cluster of cases all at once that would overwhelm the regional hospital and village clinics. It’s called flattening the curve.

YKHC has partnered with a private lab out of state that will allow them to send samples to be tested. YKHC will test anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms after traveling outside of Alaska. 

It takes about five days for test results to come back, so if someone does exhibit those symptoms, YKHC and health aides in villages will require the person to quarantine themselves at home until they get the results. YKHC is training health aides to take samples in villages.  

YKHC has set up a nurse triage line for Bethel residents at 907-543-6949. YKHC will turn people away from the hospital if they don’t have an appointment. Hodges said that practice is to keep healthy people from getting sick. Hodges said that people need to call ahead if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. 

Each village has its own triage line. Hodges said people in villages should follow the normal routine there for now. Hodges said that could change once a case of coronavirus reaches the Y-K Delta. YKHC has sent instructions to village clinics to show residents how to make a water and bleach solution that will help keep houses and the clinic clean even if they lack access to running water. 

Hodges urges people to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which can be found here. Follow YKHC for updates here

 

University of Alaska

 

The University of Alaska system, including the Kuskokwim Campus, is extending spring break, moving most classes online, and canceling events amid the threat of coronavirus. Classes will resume at KuC on March 23; those will be conducted online, through video, or over the phone. Dorms are closed to students, but KuC acting director Linda Curda said that exceptions could be made for students with nowhere else to go. The Kuskokwim Consortium Library will also be closed until Monday, March 16.

KuC has also canceled or postponed events with 25 or more people on campus, including the Saturday Market originally scheduled for March 14.


 

K-12 School Schedules

 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced at a news conference on Friday that public schools in Alaska will be closed to children from March 16-30. Afterschool activities will also be suspended, although teachers and staff are still expected to report to work. 

The Lower Kuskokwim School District and the Yupiit School District had already announced class cancellations for March 16-20. LKSD has stated that they will be looking at alternative ways to educate students without a classroom. LKSD has also stated that it is working on a plan to ensure that all of its students have access to breakfast and lunch during school closures due to COVID-19.

 

Student Activities

 

Bethel 4-H is canceled March 16-20. Assistant Director Kellie Johnson said that 4-H plans to offer childcare options to parents who need it. She says that may be limited by the University of Alaska ban on gatherings of 25 or more people; Bethel 4-H is a part of UAF. 

The 2020 Native Youth Olympics Games have been canceled. The NYO Games were scheduled for April 23-25 in Anchorage. However, it would have been a gathering of more than 250 people, with Elders in attendance, which could rapidly spread the disease. 

The Alaska School Activities Association Basketball Regional Tournament has also been canceled. Anchorage School District spokesperson Lisa Miller says that conference standings will be used to determine seeding for the First National Bank Alaska Basketball State Championships. While the championships have been postponed, Miller says there is a possibility the state tournament could be canceled as well.

 

Emergency Responders in Bethel

 

Acting Fire Chief Daron Solesbee said that the city’s emergency responders have been training on how to handle COVID-19 cases with the most up-to-date guidance from the CDC.

Solesbee also said that the city has enough protective gear for a short-term response to a coronavirus outbreak, but he has had trouble ordering more.

“The supply chain’s basically dried up,” Solesbee said.

Solesbee says that the city could get more masks from the state. The state could also offer an even more valuable resource: extra emergency responders. 

“They would be willing to provide personnel should our department responders become incapacitated due to this virus,” Solesbee said.

 

City of Bethel

 

Acting City Manager Bill Howell says that the city administration is in active communication with the local health care providers, and that he has asked all city departments for a list of employees that could work from home. 

Bethel’s new city manager, Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza, arrives in Bethel in less than a month. Howell says that Corazza’s April 6 start date won’t change, but if Bethel is in the midst of a coronavirus crisis, Howell says that Corazza won’t have to manage the city alone.

“I will stay and serve the city as much and as long as they need me, especially in the midst of an emergency,” Howell said.

 

Bethel Organizations and Businesses

 

The Association of Village Council Presidents has suspended all nonessential business travel for its employees until future notice, and is in close contact with YKHC about protecting employees' health. AVCP is scheduled to meet on March 16 to discuss its plan on addressing COVID-19. 

The Bethel Courthouse is proceeding with normal operations. However, they are requesting people call in rather than come to court if they are feeling sick. 

The Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center is also remaining open. The pool, gym, and fitness classes will all operate under normal hours. YKFC Director Stacey Reardon says that the facility will maintain its high bar for sanitization, and instruct its employees to stay home if they feel sick. 

Bethel's movie theater, Suurvik Cinema, closed March 13, and plans to open March 27.

People would still need a place to stay in the case of a coronavirus outbreak. Tundra Women’s Coalition and Bethel Winter House are remaining open for the time being. Bethel Winter House Board President Jon Cochrane says that Bethel Winter House will screen for coughing and fevers at the door, and do extra cleaning of all surfaces. TWC Director Eileen Arnold reported concerns of overcrowding in the facility, but said that the building is always kept extremely clean.

Grocery stores AC and Swanson’s in Bethel will remain open. Swanson’s manager Jim Parish says that customers may see shortages of toilet paper, medicine, and sanitation supplies like everywhere else in the United States. 

And the Legislative Information Offices in rural areas, including Bethel, will only be taking phone calls now. 

Arctic Chiropractic plans to remain open while screening clients for fever, cough and illness symptoms before taking an appointment. 

 

Airlines

 

Ravn Air is boosting cleaning for its big aircrafts, including disinfecting after every flight. Meanwhile, all cancellation and flight change fees have been waived until March 31. Non-refundable tickets will still hold the same value for 364 days from the date of purchase.

Grant Aviation is procuring a special type of cleaning material to wipe down its small airplanes. Meanwhile, the airline is using antiseptic and wipes until the special cleaner arrives. Grant is also a LifeMed provider with YKHC.

 

Greg Kim is a news reporter for KYUK covering environment, health, education, public safety, culture and subsistence. He's covered everything from Newtok's relocation due to climate change-fueled erosion to the Bethel chicken massacre of 2020.