Several communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are providing residents with "quarantine quarters", where they can quarantine or isolate for 14 days so that they don’t risk spreading COVID-19 to family members and others.
These quarantine quarters are a mix of unused housing, new builds, and empty office spaces. It depends on what the village has available.
The Native Village of Hooper Bay, one of the biggest communities in the Y-K Delta at 1,300 residents, found that it had three apartments sitting unused, so the tribe offered them up as quarantine housing. The apartments are fully equipped with furniture and food, and they’ve even provided for potential boredom: one apartment has board games, and the other two have DVD players. Tribal Administrator Paula Hill said that they have really sought to encourage people to use them, especially since an Elder died after contracting the virus in neighboring Chevak.
“After, after that incident, a lot of our community members have become so aware and vigilant. Realizing that this virus can come from anywhere, including one of our neighboring small villages who's only 17 miles away from us,” said Hill.
Chevak and Hooper Bay’s COVID-19 rates have subsided for now. Once the pandemic has passed, Hooper Bay plans to return the apartments to the entities that loaned them.
Upriver, Akiak has a different plan for the quarantine quarters it is now building. Tribal Administrator Sheila Carl said that after the pandemic, the homes will be used to help mitigate overcrowding.
“And eventually, they will be transferred over to members in the community to use to address the issue of overcrowding every community in every small community in Alaska sees,” said Carl.
The Akiak tribe is finishing up construction on two three-bedroom houses and two duplexes. Part of the funding comes from the CARES Act. Akiak expects all of the houses to be finished and ready for move-in before the CARES Act deadline runs out on Dec. 30. In the meantime, Akiak does have some emergency quarantine housing that residents can use. One is a house, and the other is a room in an empty office building.
Newtok is also building quarantine houses, which it expects to be finished in the spring. It doesn’t currently have places for people to quarantine or isolate. The acting tribal administrator wasn’t sure how the homes will be used after the pandemic, since the entire village is relocating upriver to Mertarvik.
The City of Goodnews Bay is providing a different kind of emergency housing. It has turned an unused conference room into temporary isolation quarters. The tribe is asking people to quarantine in their own homes when they return from travel, in a room away from other household members. Travelers who have tested positive for COVID-19 aren’t allowed to enter Goodnews Bay; they are usually stopped in Dillingham. But if someone were to test positive or get sick enroute to Goodnews Bay, they could isolate in the conference room.
The quarantine quarters across the villages may look different, but the message is the same: tribes want people to quarantine or isolate to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19.