Nome's economy gradually opens up
The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the economy of Nome, along with the economies of Alaska and the entire USA, for a loop. Some businesses have been able to take advantage of federal stimulus loans but the hurt is spread throughout the community. The State of Alaska is taking steps to open up the economy, but numbers in new infections reported have spiked.
On May 19 Governor Dunleavy announced his plans for opening segments of the state economy with the intent of balancing the continuing need to suppress the spread of the novel coronavirus with the increasingly critical need to resume economic activity. He proclaimed that on May 22 all businesses may open, all houses of worship and religious gatherings may open, libraries and museums can open, and all sports activities may return to normal operation. “Under Phases One and Two businesses and organizations found new and creative ways to minimize the risk of COVID-19,” said Dunleavy in a speech that day. “Now is the time for the next phase of our response.”
On May 31 the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state was 27, the highest since the pandemic began. On Tuesday, DHSS reported 20 new cases, all on the road system and clustered in Anchorage and on the Kenai peninsula.
“Every community and state has to make their decision whether they’re reopening,” said Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman. “I’m just like everybody else. I would like things to open back up. I would like things to resume to normal.” Steckman pointed out that local doctors are of the opinion that opening up is premature. “I think we need to be respectful of our doctors,” he said. “They’re telling us what is the best for us.” Steckman says the local businesses are taking it slow and easy in reopening, that when Governor Dunleavy lifted the restrictions there was no rush to go back to business as usual. “They have been more gradual, more cautious, and I think that speaks well of them that they are willing to take this approach and shelter other people,” he said. Steckman expressed concern that young people weren’t wearing facemasks and that he was seeing a lot of unfamiliar people who also weren’t wearing face coverings.
More people are coming to Nome on the jet as summer approaches. At the height of the crisis, arrivals were reduced to 45 to 50 people arriving at Nome airport per week. That’s not even half a jet load. Now the number has climbed to between 175 and 200 arrivals per week. Alaska Air has stated that at least into July there will be no seven day a week service. Cargo flights are operating as normal and Alaska Air Cargo has added one extra flight per week to keep up with demand. They are also flying freighters into Unalakleet.
Most people arrive with their travel papers ready to present at the gate as they exit the aircraft. Norton Sound Health Corporation has set up a tent at the airport to test for the COVID-19 virus. “People who fly into the state and into Nome need to understand that they still have to quarantine,” said Steckman. That means staying out of businesses, staying close to home, no interaction with people. “I’m gathering from comments being made that we have people who are not following those guidelines,” Steckman said, but he allowed that most people in Nome have been very conciliatory. “One of the challenges right now is chasing through the rumor mill that is going through the community,” said Steckman. “We are in age where’s a tremendous distrust of government. It used to be of the federal government but now it’s reached down to the local government.”
Standing outside his office on Front St. Polar Café co-owner William Krier said they are now open five days a week. They received a federal PPP loan to meet payroll expenses. If they meet the conditions of the loan it is forgiven. Twenty five percent of the money can be used for expenses such as utilities, rent and mortgage. Down the street from the Polar Café, Husky is still take-out only. They report that at this time they have no plans to open back up as a sit-down restaurant.
At Builders Supply customers are encouraged to call ahead. Nobody is allowed inside the store. Rather, they are met outside by an employee who can help them. As much of the inventory is outside the store it’s a minor disruption in the flow of work.
At Hanson’s Assistant Store Manager Paul Denton reports there hasn’t been a lot of change for them. The store did not close and their sanitation routines continue. “It depends which department you’re in,” said Denton. “We do it throughout the day.” The food bar does their sanitation every two hours. Workers wipe down all handles, countertops and anything customers touch. “From the time we open until the time we close we go through the entire store wipe down freezer door handles, carts, and anything else. It’s kind of non-stop,” he said. Denton also spends time at the Abbot Safeway in Anchorage and says he sees more masks in Nome than in the Anchorage area. He says the supply line keeping inventory levels up is better than it has been, but there are problems at distant production facilities. Meat packing plants have been affected by the pandemic and they’re trying to get caught up. Meat prices have risen quite a bit. Paper is back in stock but there are shortages of hand sanitizer, soap, and related products. Lysol wipes are unavailable. Essentials for home baking remain in short supply as people are staying home bake more and are not eating out. An inspection of Hanson’s and AC as well shows few shelves are bare. “It’s just a matter of waiting for manufacturers to get back up on step and supply the demand,” said Denton.
Kawerak has tentatively scheduled a re-opening for June 15. “We are hoping to host the 10th Annual E-Waste Event later this summer and make it a big celebration,” said Anahma Shannon. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Kawerak personnel are not able to manage the city’s recycle center conex, but residents of Nome can take their recyclables there or to the landfill recycle center.
The City of Nome’s annual Spring Clean Up is still on but some aspects have been changed to comply with restrictions. Clean Up Week is June 1 through June 6. Requests for U-Call, We-Haul end at noon on Friday, June 5. It’s for residents only, no commercial operations. Three dump trucks will be parked to accept trash on Saturday, June 6. Locations are Icy View, near the recycle center and at the port. All details are not finalized but the bus with hotdogs and sodas probably will not happen.
The Port of Nome announced that it’s open for business but there are conditions put in place. All vessels arriving in Nome must have an approved operational plan. Crew and passengers must remain onboard except for those who need medical attention. Cruise ship passengers that either disembark in Nome or board the cruise ship in Nome and arrive by air, must have a city-approved travel form in hand and must directly go from vessel to airport or vice versa.
Those vessels that resupply in Nome, must receive their cargo, fuel, stores, parts or mail on the dock, delivered by a shoreside company or local expeditors.
Anyone traveling into Nome to meet a vessel from outside of Alaska but not able to board the vessel immediately, must self-quarantine for 14 days.
Kawerak, after consultation with regional tribes, has recommended that all research activities that involved travel to the Bering Strait Region which require proximity to local residents be postponed indefinitely. This includes travel to Bering Strait villages, meetings in Nome or Bering Strait villages, research vessel crew changes in Nome, and the scheduling of any meetings in Nome or Bering Strait villages before the end of 2020.
Following the announcement that Alaska had 13 new Covid-19 cases on May 28, the state’s Chief Medical Director Dr. Anne Zink made the following statement: “Alaskans should take this news as an important reminder that the virus is still with us and that we should not ease up on the actions each of us can take to protect ourselves including: keeping six feet of distance from others, wearing a face covering when out in public, washing our hands frequently, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at home and work.”