There is no evidence of community spread of the coronavirus in Bethel, and the City of Bethel wants to keep it that way. To do that, the city is offering free lodging, food, and transportation to passengers who travel from Anchorage and layover in Bethel.
The goal is to keep travelers who are coming from Anchorage, where cases are high, away from Bethel residents, using federal virus response funding.
“Most of the cases have been travel-related, so we definitely want to create some sort of barrier between the two populations,” explained Bethel City Manager Vincenzo "Vinny" Corazza.
Travelers coming from Anchorage who have a layover in Bethel are asked to call the city at 907-543-2083 when they know their travel plans. The city will then find hotel accommodations in Bethel for the length of the layover, while also providing meals and transportation to and from the airport.
“Please don’t, at the airport, call us," Corazza said. "In advance would be very helpful.”
However, if weather delays a flight or other last-minute changes occur, the city will scramble to help travelers out.
“We definitely want to discourage you from leaving the airport and finding your own means, because that would mean that you’re co-mingling with the population,” Corazza said.
In exchange for free accommodations from the city, travelers will have to fill out some paperwork, get tested for coronavirus at the Bethel airport, wear a mask in public, and not leave the hotel room or have any visitors during the length of the layover.
The program is funded by the city’s share of the federal CARES Act. Bethel City Council approved $350,000 for the program. Since it started last week, eight travelers have participated. The program is not meant for Bethel residents, and participants are required to have a departing flight scheduled.
For teachers who use the program, the city is covering the hotel fee, but school districts are responsible for covering transportation and food costs. Many villages are requiring teachers to quarantine in Bethel for two weeks before flying on to their village schools.