Quarantine could end as intrastate traveler numbers grow

More people are coming to Juneau as the end of a quarantine order looms

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to discuss the COVID-19 situation and the potential for Gov. Mike Dunleavy to end a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers.

With the state mostly up and running and new COVID-19 cases slowing down, the next big restriction holding back business as usual is the quarantine. Businesses that rely on intrastate travel are keen to see the rule lifted, but others have concerns more travel could lead to another spike in cases.

Under Health Mandate 10, all travelers arriving in Alaska from out of state are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Currently, Juneau is seeing only a fraction of travelers for this time of year, according to Mila Cosgrove, deputy city manager and head of the City and Borough of Juneau’s Emergency Operations Command.

“Airline numbers are ticking up slowly, a little bit day to day,” Cosgrove said. “Still only a fraction of what we’d normally be receiving.”

The EOC receives daily reports of how many people have entered the city through the airport and how many of them have come from out of state. Intrastate passengers are met at the airport by Capital City Fire/Rescue personnel who ask them to fill out a questionnaire. CCFR also provides travelers with information about the quarantine mandate.

OK for now, but Assembly is uncomfortable with interstate travel

Cosgrove said between April 19 and May 16, the EOC tracked 2,269 people arriving at the airport, 958 of whom were coming from out of state. During the first week of that period, April 19-25, 319 total passengers arrived, 168 were from out of state. In the last week of that time period, May 10-16, Juneau received a total of 765 passengers, with 305 intrastate.

According to EOC data, 131 people entered Juneau through the airport on March 24, the first day data from the city is available. A month later on April 24, only 56 arrived. On May 22, the day with the most recent data, the EOC recorded 139 passengers arriving, 59 of which were from out of state.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire 
                                A member of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s Airport Screening Task Force explains a questionnaire form to a family disembarking from a flight arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire A member of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s Airport Screening Task Force explains a questionnaire form to a family disembarking from a flight arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

“There’s no real precision in the numbers but they can give you a good idea,” Cosgrove said.

Violating the mandate comes with a $25,000 fine, but Cosgrove said the city has no real way of tracking individuals and enforcing a quarantine, and the governor has said he would prefer to rely on people’s good behavior rather than enforcement.

Cosgrove did point out the numbers the city has are only the recorded numbers. The city is not tracking people coming into the city on the Alaska Marine Highway System, and CCFR staff at the airport were relying on passengers cooperation for determining out of state travel.

“We’re not asking their life story and frankly it’s none of our business,” said Jarvis Shultz, leader of CCFR’s airport screening task force at Juneau International Airport.

Shultz and his team meet passengers as they come off the plane and provide them with information regarding health mandates, access to health care and other COVID-19-related services. But once those passengers leave, there’s no follow-up to find out if that person has complied with the mandate.

The number of passengers has been slowly growing, Shultz said, and just by observation estimated about 30-40% of passengers coming through the airport were from out of state.

“It depends on the flight on the day, the numbers are climbing just in passengers,” Shultz said. “We’re starting to see a slight uptick in passenger loads, obviously they’re not up to capacity yet.”

The number of passengers is indeed climbing. Alaska Airlines declined to provide any exact numbers but a spokesperson said in an email the number of travelers across their network had increased, including for Alaska.

“While there is an uptick, it is still much lower than pre-COVID-19. This holds true for travel in the state of Alaska,” Tim Thompson, manager of external affairs for Alaska Airlines said in an email.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire 
                                A member of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s Airport Screening Task Force greets passengers disembarking from a flight arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. All passengers are handed fliers with health and safety information as they leave the plane.

Peter Segall | Juneau Empire A member of Capital City Fire/Rescue’s Airport Screening Task Force greets passengers disembarking from a flight arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. All passengers are handed fliers with health and safety information as they leave the plane.

The airline would be adding additional service in Alaska in June, including additional routes in Southeast Alaska, Thompson said. Social distancing guidelines are still being implemented, he said, and middle seats remain empty between passengers.

But for now, most of the passengers either live or work in Alaska, according to Sadie Inman, lead screener on Shultz’s team.

“Most of the people we see aren’t tourists,” Inman said. “We don’t get a lot of people here for pleasure.”

Health Mandate 10 is set to expire on June 2, but there’s a possibility it could be extended. The mandate was initially issued March 25 and meant to end on May 15. But following concerns from local leaders, the governor extended the mandate until June.

In an email, Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the governor had not yet decided whether to extend the mandate.

In the past, CBJ Assembly members have expressed concern about the mandate being lifted, and have scheduled a special meeting for Thursday to address this very issue, according to Mayor Beth Weldon.

“I think we have as much information as we can have, we don’t know if we’re going to have another spike,” Weldon said. “Every time it seems like somebody tries to predict what this virus is doing, it does something else.”

The special meeting of the Juneau Assembly is scheduled for Thursday, May 28, at 6 p.m., and it will be streamed on Facebook Live.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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