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Unalaska Makes Quarantine Exception For 'Day Travelers' Ahead Of First Tustumena Sailing

Hope McKenney/KUCB


The City of Unalaska has made an exception to its local quarantine mandate.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alaska in March, the Unalaska City Council instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anybody traveling to the island, whether by air or sea. But at their meeting on May 26, councilors voted to allow an exception. 

Ahead of the first M/V Tustumena sailing along the Aleutian Chain route, the council exempted AlaskaMarine Highway System (AMHS) "day travelers" from quarantine during their stopover in Unalaska. Travelers must still wear a face covering while visiting local businesses and adhere to six-foot social distancing guidelines.

"This exclusion would be limited to those individuals that are arriving on one of the four scheduled ferry visits and are departing on that very same day," said City Manager Erin Reinders. "So generally speaking, these individuals are those who would need to shop for essential goods or obtain essential services in Unalaska."

Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin said people will be allowed to get off in Unalaska, but not other communities along the route, because of a loophole in the AMHS rules.

"The majority of communities on the chain are not interested in people getting on and off the ferry if it's not their final destination," said McLaughlin. "The Alaska Marine Highway plans on not allowing passengers to disembark in ports where it's not their final destination. The exception comes to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor because we are the end of the route."

Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. said the majority of Tustumena passengers to Unalaska will be coming from neighboring Aleutian communities like Akutan. Passengers will be informed by the AMHS while traveling about all protective measures the city has in place, and the port will educate them when they get off the ferry about local protocol that mandates the use of face coverings, social distancing, and the limitation of one family member entering the grocery store or clinic at a time. 

"There is a real need to get groceries and supplies that they ordinarily would have gotten by plane, and in some cases, they're not getting," said Tutiakoff. "So there was a lot of thought put into [this decision], and concern by the council to allow the day travelers to participate in going to the store, wearing the face mask, and following all of our rules and regulations coming into our community."

The M/V Tustumena is scheduled to travel four times this summer, with its first scheduled departure from Unalaska on Saturday, June 6. It will leave Unalaska, then stop in Akutan, False Pass, Cold Bay, King Cove, Sand Point, Chignik, Kodiak, and end in Homer. Passengers will be unable to disembark in the communities along the route – with the exception of Unalaska – unless it's their final destination. 

Unalaska's local quarantine order is in effect until June 10. At its meeting June 9, the City Council will consider whether to continue the mandate.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced last week that he is ending Alaska's 14-day quarantine for new arrivals starting Friday, June 5. Instead, visitorsand Alaskans returning to the state will be asked to have a test for the virus within 72 hours of boarding an Alaska-bound flight. Dunleavy said some individual communities off the road system – like Unalaska – may continue to have limits on non-essential travel. 

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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