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By the Bay: March 13, 2020

KDLG/Isabelle Ross

Prevention preparations ramp up in Bristol Bay, a day after Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Alaska's first confirmed case of COVID-19. Concerns about the virus have upended plans for several regional organizations. 

Listen to the full show here:

There is one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Alaska. Governor Mike Dunleavy made the announcement at a press conference yesterday afternoon. Dunleavy declared a public health disaster Wednesday in preparation for the arrival of the virus in the state. As of Thursday afternoon, no one in Bristol Bay had been tested for COVID-19. 

The Dillingham City School District is extending spring break and postponing all activities at the school until March 30 due to concerns over he coronavirus.

Superintendent Jason Johnson announced that the district will use this time to prepare, plan and train staff. They will work on support measures and monitor people’s travel over spring break, which was originally set to end March 16. The Dillingham Boys and Girls basketball teams are currently in Anchorage for a regional tournament.

“I sincerely apologize for any disruptions that this may cause for families, however, everyone’s safety is the driving factor behind all district decisions during this time,” said Johnson in a letter announcing the changes.

Billie Benedict is the Special Education Secretary with the district. Benedict said she understands the school’s decision. 

“You know, I’m elderly so I know that the elderly are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. I suppose for my own safety I will do what needs to be done and cooperate,” she said.

Maintenance, business and administrative staff return March 17. All certified, classified and district office staff will return March 23.

Around Bristol Bay, community leaders, health facilities and local entities are working to coordinate their preparations for the coronavirus. Public health, BBAHC, the city and several larger businesses are working together to communicate accurate and up-to-date information to the public.

The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation can now send Q-tip swabs to commercial labs to test for the disease.  BBAHC is holding continual education meetings with health aides on prevention, who needs to get tested, and how to administer the test.


The City of Dillingham is holding regular meetings to assess local prevention efforts. In particular, City Manager Tod Larson is concerned about the influx of people coming to the region for the summer fishing season. Larson said the city will be talking with processors to discuss prevention ahead of the season


As of Thursday the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation has suspended all non-essential employee travel. CEO Norm Van Vactor said the decision was based on protecting both personnel and other members of the public.
“You look at a lot of the folks on airplanes these days between here and Anchorage, and a lot of them are travelling for health reasons," Van Vactor said. "And the reason they’re travelling for health reasons is they have a compromised health situation and are potentially susceptible to issues.”

Van Vactor said BBEDC indefinitely postponed a job fair scheduled for later this month in Naknek. Meanwhile, the Bristol Bay Sustainability Summit was postponed. It was set to take place the first week of April in Dillingham. The Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference and Forum has been canceled.

For more, Tyler sat down with Dr. Hyndman with BBAHC, City Manager Tod Larson, public health nurse Gina Carpenter, and April Brown.


The Lake and Peninsula Borough is monitoring the situation in the borough and is in talks with local and state entities. I talked to Borough Manager Nathan Hill about what he's looking at in terms of prevention and preparation.


St. Patrick’s Day is March 17. It is a Christian holiday commemorating St. Patrick, the man who converted Ireland to Christianity in the 5th century. The holiday was secularized and commercialized in the U.S., where the festivities marking the day often involve alcohol consumption. Dr. Cathy Hyndman took a break from talking about the coronavirus to discuss why it’s important for people to understand how drinking — and how much you drink — affects their livers, and how that’s especially important for women.


Dr. Hyndman said that in the past, men over 50 were most impacted by alcoholic liver disease, but that it is increasingly common in younger women. She also stressed that no alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy. 


We had a lot of heavy news this week. So we decided to get outside for a bit this week, and hear Tyler out and about on skis for the first time.




For up-to-date information on coronavirus and prevention efforts, visit the Centers for Disease Control website or go to the State of Alaska's page on coronavirus

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.