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Amid Ongoing Covid-19 Outbreak, Some Fear that St. Michael and Stebbins Safety Measures are Inadequate

A view of St. Michael. Photo: KNOM File.
A view of St. Michael in the summer of 2015. Photo: KNOM File.

A single, travel-related case of COVID-19 kicked off the biggest community outbreak Stebbins has seen since the fall of 2020. As of Aug. 23 Stebbins has 85 active cases of COVID-19.

Stebbins’ sister community, St. Michael, is seeing an outbreak of its own. The community has 47 active cases of COVID-19 as of Aug. 23. The two outbreaks are likely connected, according to St. Michael mayor Harold Hawkins.

Leadership in both communities implemented a series of COVID-19 mitigation measures to slow the spread in their respective communities, such as a roadblock. Hawkins explained the workings of this roadblock.

 “When Stebbins had a major outbreak, we set up a roadblock and we have people out there twenty-four seven. We got two people at a time, eight-hour shifts patrolling that. And the only one’s we’re letting through are essential workers and those essential have to have shots. They have to get a quick test every week or maybe every week and a half to continue to come over to do their job,” Hawkins said.

Local leadership is prepared to incarcerate individuals who flout safety precautions, Hawkins said.

Hawkins detailed other difficulties a COVID-19 breakout creates in Norton Sound communities that lack running water and sewer. The cities must take care of the laundry needs of households without plumbing while still maintaining proper distancing protocols. St. Michael lacks a postman, which means the community must rely on the mail carrier from Stebbins, after she has gone through proper precautions to ensure that she’s not carrying the virus.

Hawkins explained that leadership already used up the CARES funding allotted to them and now need to make $100,000 stretch to cover services, such as trash disposal, the city must provide to its residents.

Down the road, the leadership of Stebbins faces similar difficulties.

Village case numbers increased so quickly because whole families infected each other, said Stebbins’ incident coordinator Ward Walker. Even healthy individuals came down with the illness. Local leadership responded with measures such as store credit to the village grocery store for those stuck in quarantine and water hauling for the households that need water. Most institutions, such as the grocery store and the IRA are working with reduced staff since infection rates are so high. Resources are extremely limited, according to Walker.

There is concern that not everybody has been properly observing community safety restrictions. Ward Walker, Stebbins’ incident commander mentioned that people still have been holding parties in Stebbins without remaining in quarantine. He noted that there are limits to what leadership authority can legally enforce, stressing that leadership can keep people out of a community, but it can’t force residents to stay in. He said Stebbins safety officers do not have the authority to make arrests. Fines and tickets only go so far in making unwilling individuals comply with the mandates.

Walker said educating the public about the vaccine also has its limitations:

 “And somehow that hasn’t gotten through to people. So, what can you do? We’re doing the best we can in the situation.” Walker said.

Most people, Walker noted have been compliant with the safety precautions.

A St. Michael community member spoke with KNOM to manifest concern that the St. Michael roadblock was not being properly enforced, at least in the first few days of the roadblock’s installation. The resident conveyed disappointment in her community leadership, calling on them to take the pandemic more seriously.

The St. Michael community member mentioned that they would like to see improved social distancing measures, improved quarantine measures, and a greater respect for the roadblock installed between the two villages. The resident pointed out that safety should be paramount. If for no other reason, then for the sake of the community elders.

Image at top: A view of St. Michael. Photo courtesy of KNOM radio.

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