A positive case of COVID-19 in Mountain Village has a school district and a contracting company rethinking their coronavirus policies. The school district and the employer of the individual who tested positive have revealed that workers did not get tested for coronavirus before arriving in the village, and that they interacted with the community in their first few days there.
The contractors were in Mountain Village working on a flooring project at the school. Lower Yukon School District Superintendent Gene Stone described what should have happened, according to the district’s policy, when the construction workers arrived at the end of June.
“They are supposed to test as they come through,” Stone said. “If they're coming to Bethel, they should test and then go directly to the worksite, and they shouldn’t be having movement beyond the worksite.”
But TC Construction, Inc. owner Randy Christianson said that the district did not communicate those rules.
“That was never one of the rules that LYSD or the state required, so we didn't do it, no,” Christianson said.
Christianson says that his company does not require workers to get tested for coronavirus before flying to the village, and workers were only required to stay isolated from the community for 14 days after they arrived.
“I mean, these guys are out there for a whole summer, you know,” Christianson said. “Can't expect them to be locked up inside of a school for three months, four months.”
But Christianson admits that his workers didn’t follow the company’s rules either. He said that workers visited the store in their first few days in the village instead of waiting out their 14-day quarantine.
The day after one of its subcontractors in Mountain Village tested positive, TC Construction chartered a plane to transport all four workers back to Anchorage. Since then, Christianson says that the company has added some new rules.
“Everybody that goes out to either one of the projects, and Hooper Bay or Mountain Village, has to be tested now,” Christianson said.
He also said that anybody going to the villages will sign a contract agreeing to stay on the work site for the first 14 days. He hopes that will result in better adherence to that rule.
The school district is also thinking of ways to enforce its own rules. Stone said that the district may begin to require workers coming into villages to show evidence that they were tested for COVID-19, a strategy it may reuse this fall.
“That'll be the next piece that we work with, is having a good protocol for when we have returning teachers and making sure that, you know, we have a good documentation process for how they're making entry,” Stone said.
The Mountain Village tribe has not yet provided its own rules for out-of-region workers testing and isolating in the community. The tribal administrator said that council members would need to approve any media inquiry.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is sending a response team to Mountain Village the week of July 6 to conduct widespread testing. YKHC says that close contacts have already been tested, and those results came back negative.