The City of Ketchikan is asking the state to strengthen its pandemic-related travel restrictions. The City Council narrowly passed a resolution asking the governor to mandate a two-week quarantine for all travelers, both in-state and out-of-state.
Supporters say they were inspired by successes abroad.
City Council member Sam Bergeron brought the proposal forward. He said Ketchikan has done a good job “flattening the curve” — that is, minimizing the spread of the coronavirus.
“But I think it’s absolutely necessary that we kick the curve in the teeth, and we eliminate the curve, and we get our life back,” he said. “I want the Blueberry Arts Festival. I want the Wearable Art show. I want to go hang out with my friends. I want my life back.”
Not to mention, he said, keeping students in classrooms as much as possible as in-person school resumes five days a week next month.
He said one way to make that happen is to eliminate the virus from the First City. Test everyone that gets off a plane or a boat. Beef up quarantines for people entering the island community.
“You know, I’ve been talking about this concept at this table for a long time — Alaska, Ketchikan, we are geographically perfectly situated to pull this off,” Bergeron said.
The resolution points to what proponents see as a success story in the pandemic: the state of Western Australia. There are parallels to Alaska: both are vast, sparsely-populated states that are isolated from the rest of their country’s population centers.
In Western Australia, travelers arrive in the hub community of Perth and quarantine for 14 days with two rounds of COVID-19 testing. Only then can they continue on to smaller communities — not unlike what many rural Alaska villages require. Experts credit the so-called “hard border” with nixing local spread of the disease.
And those strict travel rules have allowed authorities to ease many restrictions — even allowing some 22,000 people to pack a football stadium a few weeks ago.
Ketchikan and other Southeast communities, though, aren’t currently allowed to write their own rules for travelers. That’s because of a state health mandate — Mandate 18 says communities on the road and ferry systems can’t restrict in-state travel.
So Ketchikan’s request is addressed to the state, which can restrict travel. And it asks for a travel policy “based on what has been successful in Western Australia.”
“Quarantines work,” said Ketchikan’s top pandemic response official, Abner Hoage.
He said he supports a two-week quarantine for both in-state and out-of-state travelers coming to Ketchikan. But he cautioned against using Western Australia as a model.
“I just think as a council, you should be aware of what you might be asking for,” he said, “because you may get what you asked for.”
Western Australia’s border is closed. That means, essentially, you have to apply for a permit to enter. And not everyone qualifies.
Most people who do get permission to enter the state have to then serve out their two weeks in Perth — it’s the sole port of entry for air travelers.
Mayor Bob Siverstsen said those aren’t things he’d like to see in Alaska.
“I wouldn’t want a single port of entry. I wouldn’t want permission to come here. I wouldn’t want things that Australia does that I probably wouldn’t do,” Sivertsen said.
Others noted that reinstituting a two-week quarantine would make even responsible tourism impossible.
Some council members said the stricter travel rules are unnecessary — Ketchikan just isn’t seeing that many coronavirus cases. A risk analysis tool put out by Ketchikan’s emergency operations center says the area isn’t on the edge of an uncontrolled outbreak — it’s at low risk.
“To me, we’re, we’re panicking,” said Council Member Judy Zenge “And we have no way — even if we move forward with this, how are we going to enforce this?”
That was a common question — and the state generally hasn’t enforced its health mandates with fines or jail time, unlike the Aussies. But supporters didn’t see enforcement as a particularly pressing issue.
Even a weak mandate would be better than going without quarantines, argued Council Member Emily Chapel. And beyond that…
“Just by enacting something, it encourages compliance,” she said. “And so we’ve seen that with those little — I’ve mentioned this before — those little speedometer things. Just by having that blinking thing that tells you that you’re supposed to slow down, people slow down.”
The council ultimately voted 4-3 to forward the request for stricter travel restrictions to the governor’s office. Bergeron and Chapel were joined by Council Members Dave Kiffer and Janalee Gage in support.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said in an email Friday that he’s not aware of any forthcoming changes to the state’s travel protocols.