As Unalaskans are once again being asked to stay at home as much as possible after the city raised its coronavirus risk level to "high" on Thursday, students are left in limbo — awaiting transition to distance education.
The city reported four cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and since then, has confirmed three additional cases through contact tracing, according to City Manager Erin Reinders.
"Unfortunately, at this point, we can no longer define these as isolated cases," she said at a special City Council meeting Friday afternoon. "They are community acquired with unknown origin and not travel-related, and additional positives outside of the household have been identified through contact tracing."
In light of the "potential widespread exposure" to the virus in the community, the Unalaska City Council voted unanimously to pass the "hunker down" order that will go into effect Saturday at noon. The resolution will be revisited at the council's regular meeting on Jan. 12.
The city's order requires people to stay at home as much as possible, except to go to work or school when there's no alternative. Residents are still allowed to obtain essentials, like groceries, medication and other goods, and, of course, obtain medical care or even take a walk, provided they are not in contact with others outside their household. It also orders restaurants and bars close to dine-in service and bans gatherings of more than 10 people.
At the council meeting, seven community members spoke in support of allowing the service industry to remain open at limited capacity.
"I find it hard to understand why it is that our industry is the only industry being continually affected by hunker down," said Kim Shapsnikoff, general manager of the Norwegian Rat Saloon, in a letter to councilors. "No other established businesses are being asked to shut their doors and basically lay off most of their staff. When you limit us to curbside pickup only, you limit the entire establishment, as we can't survive on takeout orders only."
Despite community input, councilors ultimately voted against allowing bars and restaurants to remain open to limited dine-in services, but said they'd reassess limited capacity options at their regular meeting on Tues., Jan. 12.
Meanwhile, the Unalaska City School District closed to students Friday to allow teachers time to prepare for their upcoming shift to home-based education, which will start on Wednesday, Jan 13. Students only recently transitioned back to in-person learning on Monday.
As the district returns to remote learning, Superintendent John Conwell said the administration is working to develop a safe plan to keep students in their classrooms despite the local coronavirus risk level. Learning from home is not feasible for many Unalaska families, he said.
"Parents depend on the schools to be open to in-person classes so that they can go to their jobs,” said Conwell during Friday's special meeting. "Students depend on the schools for basic necessities such as meals and safety. Students also depend on our schools for social and emotional support and nurturing. Most importantly, our children depend on schools for learning critical life skills needed for intellectual growth."
Conwell said the district will continue to develop the reopening plan in consultation with the Unalaska Unified Command, local public health officials and stakeholders.