By Melinda Munson

From July 28 to Aug. 10, Skagway saw 15 COVID-19 cases, a shocking number for a town that reported 33 total positive cases since the pandemic began. The cases were traced to community spread and community travel, not cruise ships, which first began arriving in Skagway on June 11.

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata isn’t surprised that Skagway’s recent COVID cases didn’t stem from cruise ships.

“It’s a testament to the fact that cruise ships might be the safest place to be in the U.S. right now,” Cremata said, citing the ships’ strict protocols.

When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S. and began overwhelming hospitals, Skagway declared a state of emergency on March 16, 2020 and initiated a hunker down process. Later, whenever a case of COVID-19 was found, the town shut down to allow for contact tracing. With the emergency health declaration ended and 77% of the population vaccinated, the town’s reaction to new cases, even the more contagious delta variant, is different.

“I don’t think there’s anybody at the table that wants the town to shut down,” Cremata said.

“We have a response mechanism that works now.”

Cremata said that as long as Dahl Memorial Clinic can keep up with testing and any medical care needs, Skagway will remain open for business.

Skagway continues to serve tourists, with an occasional business temporarily closing if an employee tests positive. 

The community has made adjustments. Municipal buildings again require masking and most private establishments request that customers wear face coverings. Senior Services briefly re-started congregate meals only to return to delivery and the school revamped their mitigation plan.

While Skagway tries to maintain control of its COVID-19 numbers, Chilkat Valley announced 41 active cases as of Aug. 10, following the July 29 – Aug. 1 Southeast Alaska State Fair.

Cremata stressed that with two months left in this shortened tourist season, “taking a few extra precautions” would be wise.

One precaution is routine COVID-19 testing for anyone whose employment brings them into contact with the public.

Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, or who have close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, can call Dahl Memorial Clinic (DMC) at 907-983-2255 to schedule a testing appointment. Insurance will be billed, and DMC will cover any remaining cost.

Those who are asymptomatic can be tested at Skagway Traditional Council (STC), which, through a partnership with SEARHC, provides free COVID-19 tests. The community took advantage of this testing on July 29 after a member of Skagway Fish Company staff tested positive. A line four blocks long stretched out from the STC building as child care employees and food industry workers waited to be screened.

Jaime Bricker, STC president, expressed her “gratitude for Sara and Rori for stepping up to the plate.” 

“They worked very hard under stressful conditions,” Bricker said. Sara Kinjo-Hischer, STC tribal administrator, and technician Rori Leaverton, instructed participants how to register and self administer the test.

“Personally, I appreciate them,” Bricker said, who tested at STC after returning from travel.

STC testing is available Tuesdays through Thursdays from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at 11th Avenue and Broadway, between the two blue buildings.