The City of Unalaska has dropped its coronavirus risk level to "low" for the first time since the State of Alaska confirmed its first cases of the virus last year.
The city first moved to the medium risk level on March 17 of last year — shortly after Mayor Vince Tutiakoff Sr. declared a local state of emergency — and has bounced back and forth between high and medium risk since then.
Now, because local coronavirus case counts have remained low and the state's Southwest and Anchorage regional levels also shifted down, Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders said the island can once again return to the low risk factor.
But she said that won't make a difference in Unalaska's current public health mandates, "because we've already transitioned into the recommendations rather than the requirements," Reinders said at the city council meeting Tuesday night.
Late last month, the City Council — citing decreases in the number of local COVID-19 cases and higher vaccination rates — passed a resolution that "encouraged" instead of "required" all public health rules and restrictions related to COVID-19. Those include things like mask-wearing and traveler self-quarantines.
The Unalaska City Council voted unanimously to continue those public health advisories at Tuesday's meeting.
Councilor Dennis Robinson warned that even though public health measures are now only recommended and the city is operating at the low risk level, Unalaskans should still remain cautious.
"With the significant number of our population that refused to get vaccinated and with the influx of people coming in here for 'B' season, I think we need to be, yes, very careful," Robinson said.
His hesitance stems primarily from the risk of processing plants being forced to shut down due to outbreaks of the virus, he said.
"We need to help do everything we can to make that easy for [the processors] — to process and not get infected because nobody works when they get shut down," Robinson said.
Reinders said that the city will recommend an extension to the local emergency declaration, which is set to expire at the end of this month. That allows the city to maintain a more vigilant and proactive response to the shifting and ongoing pandemic.
The city and local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will continue to monitor the situation, according to Reinders, who says the virus "is still with us."
People have suffered the pandemic in many different ways — and still are, she said. But she applauds Unalaskans' efforts and hopes the drop in the local risk level reminds the community to continue working together.
"I encourage all of us to continue to be kind and considerate to each other, and give each other some space — both literally and figuratively — to adjust as things open up," Reinders said.
While Mayor Tutiakoff remains cautious, echoing council member Robinson's concerns about the dangers of local processing plants shutting down, he said he's comfortable with dropping the risk level to "low."
"I want to thank again everyone in the community — businesses who have cooperated with us as we've tried to turn the curve back in January through August," Mayor Tutiakoff said. "And I believe the whole community needs a good pat on the back for getting us where we are today."