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Despite Increased Coronavirus Risk Level, Unalaska Officials Choose To Hold Off On New Mandates

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Berett Wilber/KUCB
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Unalaska's City Council voted at a Tuesday meeting not to implement any new health restrictions, despite a recent incident of potential widespread COVID-19 exposure at a local bar.

On Saturday, a group of Bering Sea fishermen who had tested positive for the virus on board their boat breached isolation and visited the Norwegian Rat Saloon around 11:40 p.m. Anyone who was unvaccinated and at the bar at the same time was asked to quarantine and get tested. 

In light of the incident, the island moved from the "medium" to "high" coronavirus risk level after nearly a month and a half at the lower threshold. 

At Tuesday's meeting, City Manager Erin Reinders suggested tightening health measures, citing potential widespread exposure. 

"In keeping with previous practice of Council when we've been at high risk in the past, we're recommending limits to public gatherings at this time," Reinders said. "And this would be revisited at our next council meeting which is 14 days from today on April 27."

But city councilors voted to wait and see whether or not Saturday's exposure leads to cases of community spread before shifting to stricter guidelines. 

Shari Coleman was the only councilmember to support reimplementing caps on public gatherings. 

"At the stage that we are at, and based on our past practices, I think we need to remain consistent with our approach on this," Coleman said. "It's been working in the past and I'd like to continue to do that."

One councilor called Saturday a "wake up call" for Unalaskans and said he wasn't in support of stricter measures at this time.

Councilor Thom Bell agreed, and said he thinks Saturday was a "one-off" event.

"We're getting close to a point where everyone who wants to be vaccinated has been vaccinated," he said. "And I think the threat is not the same that it was a couple weeks ago or a month ago." 

As of Tuesday evening, local health officials said contact tracing from Saturday's exposure is only about 40% completed.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said the city can reevaluate health measures in a few days after contact tracing and testing is done. 

"I would like to see what happens after Saturday, and if we have spread after that, then I think [we need] a whole new resolution with more than just one or two changes," Robinson said. "Basically going back to what we did the last time we were at high risk."

If people who are considered close contacts refuse to be tested, Robinson said the city should return to the stricter guidelines immediately. 

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