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How the City of Bethel is preparing for an omicron surge

Bethel City Council Nov. 9
Elyssa Loughlin
The chambers have new plexiglass partitions for council members and more room for social distancing for meeting attendees.

The City of Bethel is preparing for a surge of the omicron variant that could affect its workers, residents, and public officials. On Jan. 11, the city announced 35 new cases, its highest case count in months.

During their Jan. 11 Bethel City Council meeting, Bethel City Clerk Lori Strickler announced that all city committee and commission meetings will now be virtual. Strickler also said that she’s drafting legislation to temporarily move city council meetings back to virtual-only attendance for council members and members of the public. Currently, there are in-person and virtual attendance options available for both council members and members of the public.

Strickler said that the legislation to move the council meetings back into the virtual realm will be presented at the next council meeting, currently scheduled for Jan. 25. She said that if a council member wanted the council to consider the legislation sooner, he or she could call a special meeting.

The city also has fears about staffing shortages due to workers testing positive for the virus and then missing work. During the meeting, Mayor Mark Springer read aloud an email from the CEO of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Dan Winkelman. Winkelman cautioned that the city could temporarily lose workers to isolation if they test positive for the virus.

“You should be prepared for large numbers of your staff calling in sick and unable to work. We have recently seen the beginning of a very large wave here at Bethel and in some villages,” wrote Winkelman.

Bethel City Manager Pete Williams said that he’s having one City of Bethel worker, its finance director, work from home during the surge. He said that he could consider having more work from home, but the limiting factor is the computers. The city only owns four employee laptops.

Williams also said that he’s been reminding employees to wear their masks.

“I know that employees don’t always follow the mask rule, but I’m more worried about after work,” said Williams.

Williams also said that the city just received a shipment of 500 testing kits and N95 masks.

Olivia Ebertz is a News Reporter for KYUK. She also works as a documentary filmmaker. She enjoys learning languages, making carbs, and watching movies.