KYUK AM

Bethel Still Learning To Implement COVID Mandates

Sep 4, 2020

Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Arriving flights, cab drivers, and passengers are beginning to pick up new practices. During a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 31, the Bethel City Council mandated testing at the Bethel Airport, required masks in public spaces, and instituted a 14-day quarantine for people traveling into Bethel.

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, the new city mandates requiring COVID-19 testing for people coming into Bethel and masks in public spaces went into effect. The first flight arriving under the new rules landed Thursday, Sept. 4. The start has been slow and low-key. So far, signs have not gone up at the airport to explain the mandates, and there were reportedly no announcements made informing arriving Alaska Airlines passengers of the need to get tested and quarantine. 

Acting City Manager Lori Strickler was surprised to learn that passengers were not informed of the new mandates and local laws concerning masks and testing and quarantine.

“I’m surprised to learn that the Alaska Airlines landing announcement doesn’t yet include notice that it is mandatory,” said Strickler. “We did reach out to Alaska Airlines to provide them information of the council’s emergency order, so I will be following up with them today with that.”

Strickler said that the city is contacting local businesses and contractors about the mandates, and is ordering signs to put up at the airport and around town about the requirements for testing, quarantine, and masks. 

Bethel Police Chief Richard Simmons said that the police are prepared to enforce the mandates, just like any other city ordinance. They will respond to complaints from the public, but with a small staff there will not be an officer at the airport making sure people are tested or are wearing masks. He said that the department has contacted the local cab companies to explain the new city ordinance requiring drivers to ask for proof of testing, and the mandate that masks be worn by passengers and drivers in the cabs. 

“There was no word passed back to me that any of them balked at the idea,” said Simmons. “And their personal views aside, they’re going to go ahead and comply so they can continue their business.”

Meanwhile Dr. Ellen Hodges, chief of staff at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, said that connexes have been bought to be set up at the airport so that people waiting for tests will not have to stand out in the cold this winter.

“Connexes that we have are specially ventilated, and will have excellent negative pressure ventilation,” said Hodges. “Testing outdoors is something we will strive for and do as often as we can, but realistically speaking, from those of you who are from here who have been outside in the winter, there is just no chance that that will be a safe way to do testing when it’s really cold.”

The state has a hotline for people to report violations of COVID-19 state mandates. The city is not putting in a special phone line, but Strickler said that it has created a place for citizen reports of mandate concerns at its website, along with a special email address: wecare@cityofbethel.net.