City Manager Breaks Down Local Vs. State COVID-19 Mandates

May 15, 2020

Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB

The Unalaska City Council passed a resolution on Tuesday that requires Unalaskans to follow all COVID-19 health mandates issues by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).  

KUCB's Hope McKenney sat down with City Manager Erin Reinders to talk about how the local resolution maintains stricter protocol than the state in three areas: face coverings, traveler quarantine, and requiring that businesses post and/or submit protective measures they are taking to minimize the spread of the disease.


KUCB: This is Hope McKenney, and you're listening to KUCB 89.7 FM, and I'm here with City Manager Erin Reinders. Thanks for joining me.


KUCB: So there seems to be some confusion right now about local versus state mandates and resolutions. And I'm hoping that we can go through kind of step by step where we're at in terms of what's allowed, what's not, what businesses and restaurants and organizations are permitted to do or are not permitted to do. So to start, I was wondering, under the most recent state mandate, Mandate 18, communities connected by road or ferry are no longer allowed to restrict travel or impose mandatory quarantines for arrivals from within Alaska. But communities off the road system that aren't connected by the state ferry will still be allowed to impose their own COVID-19 related travel restrictions. So where are we at in terms of the 14-day mandatory self-quarantine and Unalaska? And how will the community handle passengers potentially arriving in early June on the first sailing of the Tustumena. I know that was a lot of questions, kind of all in one, but where are we at?

REINDERS: So we are still figuring some of that stuff out. So basically, as far as your question goes, is that 14-day traveler quarantine…currently what is in the latest resolution that was approved by council, it does go further than what the state requires and does highlight a self-quarantine time period over the 14 days whenever folks arrive here to the island. There are some exceptions and those exceptions are for those individuals that are supporting critical infrastructure, businesses who are working for employers that have already submitted protective plans both to the state and to the city. But when they're not working, then they would be under quarantine. And then obviously they would have to follow those protective plans that have been submitted. The other exception that is within that traveler quarantine, the self-quarantine in the resolution, is for passengers or travelers that are going through Unalaska on their way to their final destination. Basically, we are not going to require individuals to stay here for 14 days if they are just going through. So we want them to be able to go back to their home. So if those individuals are traveling through them, they would just be in quarantine during that time period that they are here and then they can continue traveling. So that's how the local self-quarantine requirement is being handled right here at this point. That will be revisited at the next council meeting when the discussion continues. As far as how council and the community want to address the ferries, and those passengers arriving through the Alaska Marine Highway and I've got some meetings planned this afternoon to kind of try to identify some options that might be considered.

KUCB: Okay. So nothing's been actually figured out because we still have a while. We still have until the 6th, I guess, is the first ferry sailing.

REINDERS: Correct.

KUCB: So at the May 26 meeting, we'll be making a new resolution that will say what's going to happen with those ferry passengers?

REINDERS: You got it.

KUCB: Okay. And so like you were saying, there are some mandates in Unalaska that are effectively more strict than state mandates. Can you go through kind of the list of what those are and how that actually works?

REINDERS: Yeah. So at this point, there are three main items that go a little bit stronger than what the state has mandated. And one is the face coverings, the requirement to wear face coverings when individuals are visiting businesses and organizations that are open. Obviously, the minor exception to that is if you are visiting a business like a restaurant, you would then remove your masks so that you can use that business. So that's one. And then the other is the self-quarantine, which we've already discussed. And then the other has to do with either posting or submitting protective measures that businesses are taking on. So basically businesses that are open and operating and serving members of the public during this time fall into one of two main categories: And one are those that have been considered essential businesses or critical infrastructure, and they are already required through state mandates to submit a protective plan to the State of Alaska. So we are also asking that once you submit that to the state, you also submit that to the city. And then the other kind of related requirement is if you haven't done that, because you're not required to do that, to you know, as a business, you know, meditate on and think through what your protective measures and procedures are that you are taking in order to protect your employees and your guests that are visiting your business and to post those onto your entrances and exits of your business. And the resolution itself kind of outlines a couple of, a few points that have to be kind of tackled in that. And it's nothing earth shattering. And it's frankly very consistent with some of the requirements that came out with the state mandates that started allowing more and more businesses to open up. So I think it's slightly different from the state mandates, but very complementary to what the state is requiring at this point.

KUCB: So also a question I have is just how do Unalaskans who are reading the state mandate next to our local resolution know how to interpret which takes precedence, like which one trumps the other?

REINDERS: So we've tried really hard as we're kind of going through this…I recognize and acknowledge that this is a challenging time for all of us, right? And there are rules coming down from all over the place. And it is a complicated web of requirements and suggestions and all of that. So what we have tried to do here locally is really to focus those resolutions on items that are in addition to the state mandates. So I think kind of an easy way or easy-ish way, right, of looking at this, is, you know, we are all required to follow the state mandates, bam. And then on top of that, you are also required to follow these local resolutions that are being put out. So it's kind of like a stair step, right?

KUCB: Yeah. So I know you've kind of gotten into this already, but is there kind of essentially a bullet point list that you'd be able to give me of what Unalaskans can or cannot do right now?

Reinders: That's just a big question. I don't really know where to begin with that. I mean, at this point, there's no more hunker down, you know. So at the last meeting…so previously, one of those additional steps said that our city council took in order to protect members of the community during this time was to have this hunker down order, which was basically, you know, stay inside as much as you can, and, you know, don't be interacting with everybody. But when businesses started opening up, that wasn't totally in line. Right. So now everybody's just kind of encouraged, as you know, statewide to limit the number of contacts with individuals that you have outside of your household. And that's all through social distancing measures that I think we're all well aware of at this point. So at this point, you know, go ahead and go safely to those businesses that are open. When you do interact with others, you know, make sure that you are practicing all of those social distancing and good hygiene recommendations that are out there and that we should all be doing to the benefit of our own health and then the health of our community.

KUCB: And so what about local businesses, restaurants and bars, religious and social gatherings and now even exercise classes? Where are we at in terms of what's allowed in those spaces?

REINDERS: Yeah. So that really is at this point, it is what is required in state mandates. I do not have that all right in front of me and I'm not going to be an expert in all of those areas. But that's all posted on the state's website. And there's different guidelines for different types of businesses out there. And a couple of things. I mean, obviously, different organizations can choose not to open for various reasons. Different organizations can be more restrictive than what the state is requiring for a variety of different rationale, right? You know, I mean, they're people might not have all of the equipment set up in order to operate safely or consistent with what is being required in the latest state mandates. So the state has kind of laid out there for various types of businesses what the expectations are and then that's all just being applied here, you know, within each different type of business and what they're doing.

KUCB: OK. And just from kind of looking around Unalaska right now, it seems like many people are starting to kind of loosen up when it comes to social distancing measures, seeing members outside of their household, etc. Are people still supposed to be staying apart? How are Unalaskans supposed to balance actually attending their exercise class or their church service, or go sit down at Amelia's if certain measures are still effectively in place?

REINDERS: Yeah. So this is where a lot of those personal responsibilities come in. So, yes, businesses are opening and so with that comes an increased level of risk and personal responsibility. So when you are interacting with others, please be wearing your masks and please be staying six feet away from each other and maintain your clean hands and all of that stuff that we've been talking about now this entire time. So now it's  all of those individual choices that's really going to make this big difference as far as the level of a spread of a virus, should it arrive here? You know, I mean, we like the fact, I think everybody likes the fact, or you know, many people like the fact that businesses are opening and organizations are able to operate in this kind of new normal time. But in order for this to work, we all need to be very mindful of those social distancing measures. And so we've been really trying. We as the city through our fantastic PIO, our public information officer, have really been trying to get messaging out, as you know, what those examples are. And I've just kind of listed those. Right. You know, keeping your social circle small and making sure that you have that space in between you and others. And one of the requirements, you know, that's actually in the resolution of council is to make sure that you're wearing that face covering when you go to open businesses. But I think probably what you're getting at more is just kind of a just kind of general social interaction. And that goes back to the social distancing measures.

KUCB: OK. And it is kind of hard to think about COVID here in Unalaska when we haven't actually seen a case. And it’s kind of strange to see things opening back up when we haven't even seen the start here. But we're also seeing resurges of the disease in places like South Korea that had started to reopen bars and nightclubs. Is the city concerned at all that opening up the PCR or the churches allowing larger gatherings or the bars…will increase the possibility of spread?

REINDERS: Well, as you open up, you also open up to new risk. Right. So we have spent…the EOC spent a great amount of time updating our thresholds of risk and our plans for social distancing, which we will use as a guideline as we move forward in this whole state of emergency and COVID-19 reality. So we will use those as a guideline, you know, as far as what we would do next if certain things happen. That was in the council's packet at the last meeting. And if you don't have that, I will make sure that you get that. And in that document as well, we also kind of list out the various risk factors that we can consider. And then the related social distancing measures that we would be working with based on any of those risk factors. And then the document also kind of lists out the various response measures that we have in place as operational or just kind of on standby and monitoring to expand some of those opportunities. I will say early in this process, we developed the risk thresholds and plans for social distancing. And we have since revised those. So I don't know if you recall, but quickly, we did go up to this high risk level and that's where we were for awhile and that's when everything was really shut down. You know, that just the essential businesses were operating. We had the hunker down. So that was it at the high risk. But I don't know that it's…we can't sustain that. You know, especially when there are no confirmed cases. There's not a lot of flights coming in, obviously. And there are other actions going on with the state opening businesses up. And as we already discussed, it's a very confusing web when we're talking about various local mandates and state mandates and all that. So we did kind of take a breath and looked at how can we make this structure so that it is beneficial and really protects the public health of our community, but is also manageable. You know, what can we do, what can we really do for the long haul and how can we make both of that work together? So right now, we're at this medium risk. And again, this might change as this moves forward. But this is how we're operating right now. So right now, we're at this medium risk level. There's confirmed community spread in the State of Alaska. There are no confirmed cases in Unalaska. Our clinic is able to maintain a standard of care for all of our patients. And so that's where we're at right now. If that situation changes. So if there's confirmed community spread in in Unalaska or there's confirmed widespread exposure in Unalaska, then we would bump it up to high risk level, right. And at that time, we would take close consideration and we'd look at our social distancing measure list. And that's where we would say, OK, we need to go back to the hunker down or the closure of all those nonessential public facing businesses in order to really try to nip it in the bud and limit the spread of the virus. And so that's  kind of in a nutshell, that's kind of the overall concept. I will say that all of this really depends on the personal responsibility. I've got to go back to that, you know, and really limiting the contact of the close contact that you have with members outside of your household avoiding, you know, that's being six feet away from people, you know, practicing those good hand-washing techniques, staying home if you're sick, wearing your mask when you're going out. I mean, I think all of those day in and day out will make a big difference of really reducing that spread of the virus itself.

KUCB: Okay. And I think my last question at this point is around enforcement. I know Public Safety made a hotline number for people to call to report on others not following mandate guidelines. Are there fines in place? Are stores, restaurants, the police actually enforcing these things? Where are we at?

REINDERS: Well, statewide, frankly, the primary enforcement tool that is being done right now is not fines, it's not arresting people, it’s much more education-based. And again, that is what is happening all over. Again, because this takes all of us, right. And fining somebody isn't going to have a direct correlation with keeping people healthier. It's that change of behavior. And so there's a lot of effort that's being put into talking through what the expectations are and why these expectations are in place and informing people of the benefits of doing that. So it's behavioral change through the education of what's going on and what the expectations are.

KUCB: Well, thank you. Is there anything else that I should have asked you or you'd like to share at this time?

REINDERS: No, I don't think so. I do just want to thank everybody. This is a hard, challenging time for all of us. And in order for us to make it through this and kind of discover how, you know, this new reality for all of us, it's really going to take all of us to really see the benefit. And, you know, some our behavioral changes and how that's going to really help all of us stay healthy here for the long run.

KUCB: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.

REINDERS: All right. Well, happy to.