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Protective Travel Bans In Effect Across Bering Strait Villages

Close-up of Nome and Bering Strait region on a color map of Alaska

Almost all 20 communities in the Bering Strait Region, including Nome, have implemented travel bans or restrictions. Council, King Island, Mary’s Igloo, and Solomon are the only designated communities that don’t have their own travel bans at this time.

Each village is implementing slightly different plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

In Unalakleet, three entities; the Native Village, the local Native Corporation, and the City, decided to disallow all passenger travel in and out of the community until May 1st.

Bering Strait School District’s Superintendent, Dr. Bobby Bolen, mentioned that their district office in Unalakleet was given a heads up on the travel ban earlier this week.

Starting Saturday I started getting word from and talking with different villages, including Unalakleet here where I’m located, that there were various travel bans and recommendations from those organizations to protect their communities.”

According to a statement from Unalakleet’s leadership, there are some exceptions to the rule, such as essential personnel responding to emergencies, medical or otherwise, who will be allowed to travel in and out of the community.

Unalakleet’s travel ban went into effect at midnight Wednesday and local entities plan to reassess the ban on April 15th.

Similarly, Shishmaref will not allow anyone to enter the community for the next 30 days, that includes via air travel or by snowmachine. Mayor Karla Nayokpuk could not be reached for comment before the publishing of this story as she was traveling to the nearby hot springs. Based on Shishmaref’s guidelines, she may theoretically not be allowed to return to the community until April 23rd.

Shishmaref is also encouraging its residents to take their temperatures twice a day and monitor for a fever.

Shishmaref-announcement-on-COVID-19

Meanwhile, communities like Koyuk are trying a softer approach while still monitoring the situation as it evolves. Tracey Kimoktoak is the City Administrator for Koyuk. She says that right now, residents are allowed to return to the community from elsewhere, but they must self-quarantine at home for fourteen days.

“Nobody else is allowed in unless a request is made to a person in our community.”

Koyuk leaders elected a dedicated individual to process all incoming travel requests. Kimoktoak specified that hunters especially need to be aware of this if they are hunting for the nearby herd of caribou and need to go into town for supplies. Anyone requesting access to Koyuk, including hunters, should contact Morris Nassuk at 907-412-3854.

Kimoktoak says they do have the village police officers reaching out to individuals who are suspected of non-compliance but as of Thursday they were not enforcing fines.

It is unclear how each community plans to regulate their own residents and if they will use fines or other punishments for those who don’t comply with the travel ban restrictions.

According to Kawerak, Brevig Mission, Diomede, Elim, Gambell, Golovin, Koyuk, Savoonga, Shaktoolik, Shishmaref, Stebbins, St. Michael, Teller, Unalakleet, Wales, and White Mountain, have established exceptions to the travel bans for medical workers, emergency services employees, or essential maintenance workers. For a full list of the communities’ travel bans, visit Kawerak.org.

KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter contributed to this story.

Image at top: The greater Nome / Bering Strait area. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.