Some travel restrictions lifted for vaccinated people
As vaccines become more widely available in the region, city and health officials are reworking some of the region’s COVID restrictions to accommodate people who get the vaccine. While some changes to the travel rules have already gone into effect, however, most regulations remain the same for now.
The biggest change for fully vaccinated people – those who received their second dose of vaccine more than two weeks ago – pertains to travel. Travelers coming into Nome can choose to either quarantine for seven days, with tests on the first and seventh day, or quarantine for 14 days with no testing. But the fully vaccinated will be allowed to forgo the seven days of quarantine and the test on day seven, provided they still test upon arrival at the airport.
Around five percent of vaccinated people can still catch the virus if exposed, so keeping at least one required test helps keep that small percentage of people from spreading the virus, explained City Manager Glenn Steckman. Testing at the airport is free, and vaccinated people who refuse to test at the airport are still required to quarantine for the full 14 days instead.
NSHC is recommending the same rule be applied to regional villages, although it’s up to each village’s leadership to set their specific travel policies, and not all villages have the same rules.
Steckman added that aside from the lifting of travel quarantine, other COVID precautions still apply to the vaccinated. “We are still urging people to use due care. They are still required to use facemasks when they are in any public space, or stores that require it. And they should still exercise caution,” he said. “This vaccine does not mean they’re bulletproof.”
The decision to lift the quarantine requirement was made in conjunction with Norton Sound Health Corporation, which has also taken over some of the paperwork involved with flying into Nome. Instead of filling out the city’s travel form, incoming travelers can now fill out an online form with NSHC while they’re waiting at the gate in Anchorage. An NSHC employee has been stationed in Anchorage to give out the link to the online form. They also carry a tablet and can help fill out the form for travelers without a computer or smartphone.
Steckman said they made the move to streamline the arrival process. With the online forms all filled out in advance, NSHC staff at the Nome airport can prepare the necessary tests and move travelers through the testing center with minimal delay. “It’s very easy to complete, and it helps the hospital process people more quickly than having to fill out a form in Nome,” Steckman said.
He added that the City of Nome’s travel form is still available, but only necessary for people who want to quarantine for 14 days instead of testing at the airport. Those travelers should fill out the city’s form before flying and show it to a city employee at the Nome airport when they land.
Most city closures remain in effect, for the time being. The museum and library will remain closed, although the library has started lending out books through curbside pickup. “It’s virtually impossible to disinfect the property on a regular basis without damaging exhibits or other materials in those two facilities,” Steckman said. “So, we’ve chosen to protect the contents of the facilities.”
The Rec Center remains open with partial capacity and Steckman said the pool repairs have been completed and that the pool would open to the public within the next few weeks. Over time, as more people get vaccinated and case numbers drop, he said, he hoped the Rec Center could slowly move back to full capacity.
There are currently no limits on businesses and private spaces like bars, restaurants and churches, aside from restrictions the businesses or churches put in place themselves. Hanson’s and AC still require facemasks to be worn by all shoppers, as do many smaller stores.
Steckman said the City would consider reimposing restrictions on restaurants, bars and churches if case numbers spiked again like they did in late November. He emphasized that the best way to keep case numbers down is to wear masks, social distance and to avoid unnecessary gathering and travel.
“We’re running ads now basically telling our community members that it’s up to them to help prevent future closures,” he said.