A panel of experts answers questions from the Juneau City Assembly about the coronavirus at Juneau City Hall on Monday, Mar. 9. 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

A panel of experts answers questions from the Juneau City Assembly about the coronavirus at Juneau City Hall on Monday, Mar. 9. 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Empire Live: City is well prepared to handle coronavirus, Assembly members say

Live updates from the meeting.

Summary: Things are changing fast, but the city, state and other groups are ready to deal with the virus. Small, common-sense measures can go a long way in combating the spread of disease, officials said, and one of the most important things was not to panic.

8:30 p.m.

Things are changing a lot, Tibbles says, but some ships which have been taken out of the Asia market are coming to the West Coast.

Considering federal agencies is advising people against cruise ships, CLIA is continueing to do what they can to ensure people feel safe, Tibbles says.

8:22 p.m.

Assembly woman Michelle Hale asks who would make the call whether or not to allow people on or off the ship once a case is detected.

It depends, Watt says, if the ship is in the water, it’s the U.S. Coast Guard, but when it comes to infectious diseases it’s the CDC. But that has to be done in consultation with other agencies.

The world health community is learning in real time, he says, but it may be the case that offloading passengers in Juneau may be the best course of action.

Crum says the state has prepared for the transportation and containment of individuals with contagious diseases. It would not be the sole responsibility of the City and Borough of Juneau.

8:13 p.m.

Mike Tibbles, with the Cruise Line International Association, says cruise line executives got together as soon as the World Health Organization released its first warning and within 24 hours had agreed on a policy.

Industry leaders are still working with federal industries and the policy is evolving on a day to day basis. Currently, passengers who have been to certain countries or areas within countries will be denied boarding.

“These are the policies that are in place, and those are on top of the long standing health policies in the industry,” Tibbles said.

CLIA members are required to have medical professionals on board at all times and the ability to treat patients.

8:09 p.m.

We really don’t know what’s going to happen with the industry, Watt says, with the booking and scheduling. We do know is the whole world is on alert, he says.

The city has to be ready for a rational discusssion to take place if a person on a cruise ship is showing symptoms, Watt says. Many of the neighboring communities do not have the same resources and Juneau needs to be ready to help those communities as well for any variety of “what if scenarios.”

Were going to have a case in Alaska, Watt says, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one in Juneau.

8:05 p.m.

Assembly member Carole Triem asks if anything is going to be done for the crew’s mental health, considering they’ve been on the ship for so long.

“Welcome the crew,” Day says. Already a number of people have reached out to see if they can help crew members in any way. Eagle Crest Ski Area reached out to offer ski lessons to the crew which consists mostly of Filipinos and Indonesians.

8 p.m.

The CDC tests people, Holland America doesn’t, Samuels said. If the CDC wants to test the company is open to it, he says.

Crum says because the crew will have been on the ship for so long, additional testing will not be necessary.

7:58 p.m.

The city will not receive a passenger fee, Watt says, but it will sell potable water at normal rates and receive payment for taking grey water, he says.

The sewage from the crew will hopefully be held on the ship, Day says, but there have been discussions with the local utility about whether or not the ship could offload some sewage if need be. But that amount would be minimal, Day says.

7:55 p.m.

The Westerdam is not coming here because nowhere else will take it, Kirby Day says.

We understand the angst the community is in, Samuels says, we’re willing to be part of the solution as we talk to the city management staff.

“They’re all tested,” he says.

7:52 p.m.

Samuels says he’s not sure how many crew will be on board, but a full contingent will be around 700 people he says. Holland America will be bringing in its own food, Samuels.

How can you provide certainty the Westerdam’s arrival will not increase the risk of coronavirus, Smith asks.

Samuels says the CDC can confirm the clearance of the crew. Watt answers there is a medical director on board and that the company has a legal duty to report any instances of disease, coronavirus or otherwise.

7:48 p.m.

The Westerdam was meant to dock in Shanghai, says Ralph Samuels, vice president for Holland America. No one on the ship had corornavirus, but several governments prohibited the ship from landing.

One older woman tested positive which led to testing of all the passengers on the ship, Samuels said, but no other passengers tested positive. The ship is currently on its way to Hawaii and the crew on board will have been on the ship for a month and have been tested several times.

There are a number of operational needs Juneau can meet, Samuels said. The ship can discharge gray-water in Juneau and the city has an airport.

The ship will get rid of its trash in Hawaii and Vancouver before coming to Juneau, any trash deposited in Juneau will be minimal, he says.

The ship cannot use shore power Samuels said. The plug is on the wrong side of the ship, Samuels said, but Alaska Electric Power and Light has a contract with Princess Cruise Lines which prohibits buying that power.

7:37 p.m.

The meeting is back and representatives from Holland America and the cruise ship industry are going to answer questions about the Westerdam.

“We have made many many questions about the decision, and who made the decision and when was that information transferred to the city,” Watt says. It’s a short story, he says, Kirby Day, a local Holland America employee contacted the city and said the company was planning to bring the ship to Juneau.

7:24 p.m.

First responders spend much of their downtime preparing for instances like this, Mayor Beth Weldon said.

The meeting is taking a five minute break before coming back to discuss the Westerdam.

7:11 p.m.

Assembly member Greg Smith asks if there are plans in to maintain things like utilities and food security.

Watt responds there are plans in place for things like a reduction in workforce in areas like utilities and first responders. He says he has been in contact with barge companies encouraging them to be in contact with local retailers about maintaining supplies.

“This is not a theoretical thing, asking you to call your doctor,” Watt said.

7:03 p.m.

Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss says the district has increased its communication both with parents and internally.

Custodians are do a different level of cleaning each night, a deeper clean will be done when students are gone for spring break, and staff are talking with students everyday about cleanliness and good hygiene.

There are some students who are medically sensitive, she says, and plans are being made to help those students and their families should the need arise.

“What we know about school closure is it’s an incredible hardship on our families,” Weiss said. Closing a school is done in close coordination with other city departments.

7 p.m.

“Remember all the little things” Matisse said, “even how to set up a meeting,” Matisse said.

Past epidemics have been managed by small common sense practices, Hargrave said, and things like washing hands and taking precautions can go a long way to to combat the spread of disease.

6:56 p.m.

The city began coordination with several of the agencies now working to combat the spread of the virus several years ago, says Juneau Emergency Manager Tom Matisse tells the Assembly. There are a number of plans in place to deal with thingd like an overwhelmed hospital Matisse said.

6:47 p.m.

Assembly member Rob Edwardson asks Bartlett CEO Chuck Bill what numbers might overwhelm the hospital’s capacity, given that the cruise season will bring thousands of people to Juneau each day.

Bill says the hospital would have the capacity to treat large numbers of people. Over time, Bill says, the virus will most likely appear to look like an extreme form of the flu. There will be vaccines and other treatments that will allow people to, “learn to live with it.”

6:42 p.m.

There is a difference between sampling and testing, Crum says. Sampling can be done in communities outside of those with labs and even off the road system. The state works with local health care providers to arrange for transportation of the sample.

Once the sample is at one of the state labs, Crum says, tests can be turned around in less than a day.

6:36 p.m.

Adam Crum, commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Service says the test for the virus is “very prescriptive,” and thus needs to be done at special labs.

But he says, the state is getting better at testing and has found ways to maximize the testing kits the state currently has.

He says Sarah Hargrave’s testimony was indicative of the “homegrown expertise” that exists around the state.

6:33 p.m.

Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO Chuck Bill asks that people contact the hospital before arriving for testing so that any potential exposure can be limited. The staff at the hospital has been preparing and are ready to triage any confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The hospital had beefed up its own personal protective devices like gloves and goggles, but he says, “the whole world is looking for those personal protective devices so we’re in competition.”

Members of the public should bot be wearing masks unless they are showing active symptoms, Bill says.

6:28 p.m.

People should contact their health care providers if they think they have symptoms, Hargrave says. The CDC and the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services have helpful websites with information she said.

After a lengthy explanation of what the virus is and what people should do, Gladziszewski thanks Hargrave and says,”I think you answered every question on out list,” which gets a laugh from the crowd.

6:20 p.m.

Testing for the virus is available at two locations in Alaska, at state laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Health officials wants to make sure they are testing people at the right time in the right place. The determination to test a person if often made on a case by case basis, Hargrave says.

If a case was found in Juneau, and investigation would be done into the point of contacts. With regard to the Westerdam, the cruise ship, people come in and out of Juneau everyday, so it’s not just the cruise ship, she says.

6:16 p.m.

Sarah Hargrave of the Alaska Public Health Association is currently giving a background of the virus and how it got to this point.

“The virus is fairly contagious,” Hargrave,”however it’s not nearly as contagious as the measles.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are estimating the mortality rate at 1-2%, Hargrave says, but the full mortality rate may never be known because many people will have the virus and never know it.

The virus spreads when droplets from an infected person, usually from sneezing or coughing, land on a another person’s eyes or mouth, Hargrave says. The virus will last longer in warmer, more humid conditions than drier conditions.

The CDC recommends good hygiene, avoiding crowds and remaining home in the event of a local outbreak.

6:10 p.m.

“Please be kind to one another,” Gladziszewski says. There have been a number of reactions within the community and the Assembly is doing its best to provide good information.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” City Manager Rorie Watt says, “We don’t have all the answers but neither do the experts world wide.”

5:57 p.m.

Juneau residents have packed into the Assembly Chambers at Juneau City Hall to discuss the plan to have a Holland America cruise ship docked in Juneau for several weeks. The ship has no passengers but was barred from docking in Southeast Asia and the Pacific over fears of the coronavirus.

“Nobody sent us just one,” Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski says of the questions sent in about the coronavirus. Several state and local officials are before the Assembly to answer questions.

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