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Language in New Ordinance Confuses Councilmembers & Nome-ites Alike, Travelers Have Quarantine Options

Inside of small meeting room during city council meeting

The City of Nome issued the newest emergency order on Tuesday night to update city travel policies by giving travelers a choice of what kind of quarantine they would like to do. Intrastate travelers coming into Nome can now choose to do a seven-day quarantine, providing that they test negative for COVID-19 before and after their quarantine. If they opt out of the testing, they can instead quarantine for 14 days.

As per state mandate, Western Alaskans are only supposed to be traveling to communities on the road system for critical personal needs such as essential medical care, grocery shopping, or child custody arrangements. Although they cannot be required to quarantine automatically, the City of Nome is asking that they consider quarantining for the safety of the community and surrounding region.

Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman shared the plan on a phone call with tribal leaders Wednesday morning.

“We are anticipating or hoping that people will voluntarily comply with this.”

During a special meeting on Tuesday, the Nome Common Council met to review the new emergency order. Councilmember Jerald Brown clarified the city’s expectations regarding one aspect of the ordinance – quarantines.

“They can still go and recreate out in the country if they’re away from people but they shouldn’t be hanging out in the bar, the grocery store, and that kind of thing.”

As of May 20th, here are the latest state guidelines regarding travel (the next phase of Reopen Alaska doesn’t take effect until Friday, May 22nd) :

  • For travelers coming into Alaska from anywhere outside of the state: whether you are residents, workers, or visitors, you are required to quarantine for 14-days upon arriving to your final destination community in the state. This is based on Health Mandate #10 from the State of Alaska.
    If you meet the state’s definition of performing an “essential service” or are part of the “critical workforce”, then you are not required to quarantine for 14 days after traveling within Alaska. However, if you are coming into Alaska from out of state, you still must quarantine for 14 days as per Health Mandate #10, cited above. (Businesses with workers who are traveling between communities are required to submit a plan of operations to the state.)
  • For travelers in Alaska who want to travel to or from a community off the road system: You must have a reason for traveling that is considered a “critical personal need” or be considered part of the essential service, critical workforce mentioned above. “Critical personal needs include buying, selling, or delivering groceries and home goods; obtaining fuel for vehicles or residential needs; transporting family members for out-of-home care, essential health needs, or for purposes of child custody exchanges; receiving essential health care; providing essential health care to a family member; obtaining other important goods; and engaging in subsistence activities.” That language comes directly from the state’s Health Mandate #18 on intrastate travel.
  • Local municipalities and communities can still restrict non-essential travel as they see fit. Check with your local community to get the most up to date travel restrictions.

In Nome, essential and critical infrastructure workers are able to go to their job sites locally without quarantining. But they are asked not to do excess activity around town.

City leaders were unclear on whether a traveler returning from Anchorage for “critical personal needs” would be able to return to their place of work without quarantining. State mandate still requires a 14-day quarantine for non-essential workers as well as travelers coming from outside of Alaska.

Here’s an updated press release from the City of Nome that explains the local travel-related restrictions:

City-of-Nome-PSA-5-21-20

Nome is no longer calling residents to personally verify that they are following quarantine requirements; Manager Steckman says anyone concerned about a quarantine violation can call 911.

However, the Nome Common Council decided not to do away with all paperwork for travelers at the local airport. In a bit of a public relations move, the city says they will be requesting travelers to fill out a form at the airport rather than a travel permit in advance, like they did before.

This new form will allegedly tell travelers that they have the option of doing a quarantine for 14 days without taking a test. Or, they can do a seven- day quarantine– provided they test negative for COVID-19 on arrival and test negative again on the eighth day. Councilmember Jerald Brown sees the new travel form as having a two-fold purpose.

“One being to allow the city to determine the travel is actually authorized by state mandate. And then it would also serve the purpose of providing information to the traveler as to what their obligations [for quarantine] are, basically the rules.”

The City Council wants the form to be educational rather than punitive. Travelers leaving Nome do not need to fill out paperwork until they are ready to return to the city.

In the past city staff have claimed that the travel permit could be used for tracking a potential COVID-19 case. But Public Health Nurse Deanna Stang says that the information collected by the city is unnecessary for a contact tracing investigation.

It would not be something that we would contact the City of Nome to collect. We would be able to collect that information via other avenues.”

She listed flight manifests from Alaska Airlines as one of those potential avenues for tracing investigations.

At this time, Norton Sound Health Corporation is still working to have rapid testing available at the Nome airport. Anyone wishing to have a rapid test done may go to the hospital parking lot in Nome. The test is available for asymptomatic residents and is free of charge.

Tuesday’s special meeting was meant to give the Council time to review the existing emergency orders and look at this latest emergency order on travel regulations.

Most councilmembers were disappointed or confused by what they had to review. The emergency order was written by the City Attorney and only issued to the public, including the City Council, half an hour before their Tuesday special meeting.

City-of-Nome-Emergency-Order-May-19th-2020

Councilmember Mark Johnson noted that the order referenced state mandates that have expired.

“I’m highly, highly unimpressed with the product that was released for us to try to evaluate and look at tonight because it has a lot of references that are highly questionable… I understand it was not written by our city staff. It’s really difficult to follow things that are already obsolete or potentially obsolete.”

The council directed City Manager Glenn Steckman to work with the City Attorney, Brooks Chandler, to clarify the language of the emergency order for their next regular meeting. The current order is effective until July 14th.

Image at top: The Nome City Council during a recent regular meeting in fall of 2019. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).

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