Winter in Unalaska by Sam Zmolek
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  • The Unalaska City School District has performed near the top of the state in testing again this year, according to Superintendent Jim Wilson. When compared to the rest of Alaska’s public schools, Wilson said the district ranked fifth based on new statewide data from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s yearly Report Card to the Public. It’s an assessment of things like graduation rates, testing scores and teacher quality in the state’s public schools.
  • The Unalaska City School District is running on a revised bus schedule due to a driver shortage.In a letter to parents and families sent out Dec. 5, Superintendent Jim Wilson said one of the island’s bus drivers is leaving town for a family emergency, and the district will have to get by with just one bus for now.
  • A long-awaited trial date is expected soon in a criminal case involving a fatal 2019 vehicle crash in Unalaska. That comes after a recent status hearing for the driver, Dustin Ruckman, who faces multiple felony charges, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. In early May, three-and-a-half years ago, Ruckman, a high schooler at the time, drove his truck off of Unalaska’s Ulakta Head Cliff on Mount Ballyhoo. 16-year-old Karly McDonald and 18-year-old Kiara Renteria Haist were ejected from the vehicle and killed as the pickup descended 900 feet down the cliff. Ruckman claimed to have been thrown from the vehicle, suffering minor injuries.
  • Millions of homeowners skipped mortgage payments during the pandemic, as people lost jobs and reevaluated their finances. In response, the U.S. Department of Treasury issued millions of dollars to states, tribes and U.S. territories to help prevent payment defaults and utility shutoffs. Now, the Aleutian Housing Authority is giving more than $2 million to homeowners in the Aleutian and Pribilof region through the Department of Treasury’s Homeowner Assistance Fund.
  • Unalaska’s clinic is expecting its first doses of the monkeypox vaccine this week. The White House declared monkeypox a public health emergency last month. The disease spread rapidly after it was first detected in the U.S. this spring. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 21,000 cases in the nation as of Thursday. Only three have been reported in Alaska. People in Anchorage have had access to the monkeypox vaccine since early August. Rural communities like Unalaska are now beginning to receive doses as well.
  • One of the most sealed off communities in the country is under a hunker down order following a surge of COVID-19. Roughly half of all coronavirus cases recorded on St. Paul Island since the start of the pandemic have happened in the last two weeks.
  • Two years after becoming one of the most sealed-off locations in the United States, St. Paul Island is reopening to visitors. St. Paul Island Tour, a business within the Unangan-owned TDX Corp., is resuming its operations after a pause forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Alaska Marine Highway System has dropped its mask mandate, nearly two years after imposing it. The department announced the end of its mask requirement on Tuesday, the day after a federal judge struck down a directive from the Biden administration that required masks on public transportation.
  • Alaska businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic have until April 30 to apply for tens of millions of dollars from a second round of federal pandemic relief funding. But that’s only if they didn’t get money during the first series of grants issued through the state’s American Rescue Plan Act. Even if business owners applied and were turned down during that first round of the Alaska ARPA Business Relief Program, they can still give this second round a shot, said Shirley Marquardt, executive director for the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. “If you applied, but you did not get any funding, for whatever reason … you can go back and you can apply again here on round two,” Marquardt said. “And I would really strongly urge people to do that.”
  • Unalaska’s Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic has a new interim chief operator. Jennifer Heller is a certified nurse midwife. She’s been working in healthcare for more than two decades and has been employed at IFHS as a nurse midwife and quality improvement coordinator since 2019. Now, she’s the second interim CEO the island’s clinic has hired since December.