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Nome City Manager Weighs In on COVID-19 Closures, Says Governor’s Orders Recognize Rural Communities

Richard Foster Building
Nome's museum and library will now be housed in the new Richard Foster Building. Photo: Emily Russell/KNOM.

The City of Nome has shut down city buildings after Governor Mike Dunleavy recently pleaded with Alaskans to practice social distancing and slow the spread of COVID-19.

City officials made the decision to close on Thursday after the governor sent out a statewide emergency alert. City Hall is also now operating on reduced public hours.

“We are only planning this for two to three weeks, I don’t see it extending past that.”

– City Manager Glenn Steckman

Nome’s City Manager Glenn Steckman hopes the closures will be short, as long as community spread of COVID-19 remains low. The main buildings affected are the recreation center and visitor’s center; the Richard Foster building has not reopened to the public since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Mini Convention Center will continue to temporarily house the Norton Sound Day Shelter and the Nome Emergency Shelter Team.

Steckman said the shutdown of city buildings also came partially over safety concerns from city employees.

City-of-Nome-Closures-PSA-11-12-2020

Meanwhile, Nome’s private businesses are operating at the owner’s discretion. Potential super-spreader establishments like the cinema, bars, and restaurants remain open but with some social distancing protocols in place, like a limit of fewer than fifty people at a time in the cinema.

City Manager Steckman is optimistic about the situation in Nome where the region has seen no deaths and no serious hospitalizations. But he believes that is due to the community’s cooperation with social distancing and following travel requirements. However, there are still growing areas of concern.

“We are seeing some people that are testing positive on the seventh day [of their quarantine] which is a bit disturbing, especially if those individuals decided not to follow guidelines.” 

– City Manager Glenn Steckman

On Saturday, Governor Dunleavy issued new health orders including a travel order for visitors on the road system and Marine Highway System who go to communities off of the road system. The governor mandates those visitors to social distance in the rural communities and to have a negative COVID-19 test if they stay longer than 72 hours.

That order explicitly allows local communities to implement restrictions that are stricter than the state’s, providing they do not limit certain essential workers, activities, or returning residents. The City of Nome will continue to enforce its locally mandated quarantine requirements. But Manager Steckman sees the measure as a small show of support from the state.

“I think it’s important that the governor is recognizing the off-road system communities have all different types of capabilities and Nome has a lot of capability. We’ve got a good hospital and most of the community has been very cooperative so that is providing a level of safety that other areas of Alaska are not seeing.”

– City Manager Glenn Steckman

The new order from the governor goes into effect on Saturday morning.

In Anchorage, health officials are warning that with the explosion of cases in the state’s largest city and Y-K Delta, hospitals could soon be overwhelmed. And that could be a problem potentially for the Norton Sound region, Steckman said, if someone becomes too ill for the Norton Sound Regional Hospital (NSHC) in Nome.

“NSHC would be dependent on flying them to Anchorage so it’s vital that we all work together during this super-spread development.” 

– City Manager Glenn Steckman

Alaskans are encouraged to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday with only those in their immediate household bubble. The state reported a new single-day record of 742 cases of COVID-19 on Saturday although that number could be an undercount of up to 50%. State health officials report they don’t have enough personnel to process the data immediately.

There are 23 reported active cases of COVID-19 in the Norton Sound region at this time.

Image at Top: The Richard Foster building in Nome. Photo from Emily Russell, KNOM file.

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