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City of Nome To Do House Calls, Require Seasonal Miners to Quarantine Locally

The City of Nome is trying to increase “spot-checks” on people who are required to be self-quarantining upon their arrival to Nome.

Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman told the City Council Monday night that means a city employee would physically go to the residence, unannounced, and make sure the quarantined individual is present.

“If they’re in the house and the person [at the door] says they’re quarantined. We will accept that. But we’re not going to go in and knock on people’s rooms and doors because we don’t want to have too much exposure for our own staff.”

– Glenn Steckman

Steckman doesn’t want those duties to fall to the Nome Police but is instead seeking other city staff to work as temporary public health officials, provided the city can get enough PPE to protect them.

The City is keeping track of quarantined individuals by requiring travelers, entering or exiting Nome, to fill out a permit. Deputy City Clerk Christine Piscoya has been processing those travel permits since they were made publicly available on March 26th

“I’ll start with the old permits, we call them old because that was the first round that we did. For the outgoing it stopped at 171 and then the incoming was 71. And then the newer, updated permit is at 146. [That’s the total for permits] in, out, and through Nome.”

As of Monday, a total of 388 permits have been processed since Nome started regulating travel. That includes permits filled out at Alaska Airlines and those involving travel between the region’s villages. Steckman said many of those were traveling for medical reasons, releases for probation, or were individuals released from the local jail.

City officials are meeting travelers at the Alaska Airlines terminal with the permit in case they have not filled one out, although permits are supposed to be submitted 72 hours before people are traveling. While no one has been denied entry at the airport, Steckman says, they have rejected an unspecified number of permits.

Now the City is receiving permit applications from incoming seasonal individuals: such as miners and commercial fishermen. Under the Governor’s health mandates, mining is considered allowable as an essential activity. Nome is accepting those applications from gold miners, Steckman explains, but they’re required to submit a plan of where they’re staying and how they are getting food. And if seasonal workers come up to Nome and plan to live together, they will have to adjust their quarantine too.

“But if people come in staggered– let’s say the first guy gets in and he’s been here for 14 days– and somebody who’s only been there for three days comes in but starts showing signs of COVID-19, guess what? The guy that’s [done] 14 days has got to do another 14 days.”

Steckman says the City is getting some pushback from miners who claim they should be exempt from quarantine because they are classified as essential workers. Several Councilmembers disagreed with that classification, including Councilmember Jennifer Reader.

“I don’t see how gold mining in Nome, Alaska is an essential service. I can understand maybe mining a resource that the state might need but mining gold, I don’t believe is a resource the state needs.”

– Councilmember Jennifer Reader

Nome Port Director Joy Baker shared that barge carriers already have socially distant plans for their operations in Nome, which includes keeping the crew on the vessel and requiring shoreside workers to come up with enough time to do their quarantine before going to work. Cruise and research vessels have halted their plans in the Arctic at this time.

 If somebody is out at sea and becomes ill, the hospital is required to admit them, Baker reminded the Council. Manager Steckman noted that the Norton Sound Regional Hospital does have isolation units and 40 beds for someone who comes in displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

Finally, the Council heard grim statistics from Interim Police Chief Mike Heintzelman during Monday night’s work session. Heintzelman shared that domestic violence calls are up 33% from this time last year. In 2020, sexual assault reports are also trending higher than last year.

Chief Heintzelman noted that documentable instances involving alcohol are down from previous years. Now that the City is enforcing quarantine for anyone entering Nome, officers of the Nome Police Department are staying in town and not traveling when they’re off duty.

The Nome City Council next convenes for a regular meeting on April 27th. The Nome Port Commission has a regular meeting scheduled for tonight and plans to continue the discussion on COVID-19 preparation.

Image at top: Dredges near Belmont Point at the mouth of the Snake River. Photo from Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

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