By Melinda Munson

The Assembly voted May 21 to continue Skagway’s 14-day self-isolation policy, despite Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Health Mandate 18 which loosened travel restrictions between Alaskan communities linked by the road system, beginning May 12.

Section one under general requirements of Mandate 18 reads: “No one traveling to or from any community for Critical Infrastructure/Essential Services reasons or Critical Personal Needs travel may be subject to any automatic quarantine or isolation on arrival, except as allowed under Alaska Statutes or Health Mandates.”

Health Mandate 19 further clarified that the ferry system is considered part of the road system. Thus, Skagway cannot be considered a “small community” exempt from intrastate travel rules.

In a May 19 memo to the Assembly, Borough Manager Brad Ryan wrote, “If the Assembly or government of Skagway deems it necessary to take action such as requiring people arriving in Skagway to self-isolate for 14 days to maintain the safety of the community, I am under advisement from our legal counsel that Skagway has the authority to do this.”

Ryan further stated, “If the Assembly decides to continue the 14-day self-isolation mandate, I want to remind the Assembly that this relies on voluntary compliance unless they pass additional legislation regarding penalties.”

The Assembly passed Resolution 20-17R after a lengthy discussion which included amendments of amendments. Assemblymember Steve Burnham introduced changes to the original resolution with Assemblymember David Brena then suggesting changes to the amendments. The main points of the resolution are outlined below.

• The 14-day self-isolation period for arrivals to Skagway will continue and be re-evaluated at the next Assembly meeting on June 4.

• Skagway will work with other Southeast port towns to establish safety guidelines and protocols.

• If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Southeast and traced to a cruise ship, Skagway will immediately implement a Traveler Self-Isolation Order (TSO). The TSO requires anyone travelling to Skagway from outside the state, or coming from an Alaska location with known COVID-19 cases, to self-isolate for 14 days.

• Two weeks before a cruise ship arrival and two weeks after a cruise ship departure, all Skagway employees who come into contact with the public must wear a mask or face covering while within six feet of any customer.

• MOS will endeavor to “place and maintain mask and hand sanitizer stations at every active port of entry.”

• MOS will “provide and maintain” hand sanitizer stations outside of businesses open to the public as soon as possible.

Currently, there are no legal ramifications for disregarding self-isolation guidelines or any other measures in Resolution 20-17R. 

“Skagway is not becoming Hawaii and arresting travellers who come here because they will not self isolate,” Burnham said. He emphasized the resolution “is not setting any kind of fine or punishment” and pointed to Section 3 of the resolution, which outlines a process the Assembly would have to undergo should they feel consequences were warranted in the future.

In Mayor Andrew Cremata’s May 21 report, he posed the question: “If residents are already ignoring the simple health protocols like social distancing, how will we enforce a toothless quarantine mandate?”

Assemblymember Orion Hanson was opposed to a continuation of the 14-day self-isolation, which at some points in the meeting was proposed to extend until June 18. 

“I see this as crazy, that we’re just being overly restrictive and reactive,” he said. He noted it had been a long winter with The Klondike Highway closed due to avalanches and the ferry system out of service. 

“Quite frankly, I think that people are cracking,” Hanson said, noting his concern for the community’s mental health and residents who are unable to seek medical care in Juneau because they don’t have the means to self-isolate upon their return.