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Dillingham's new emergency order relaxes restrictions, but some worry it will still impact business

Izzy Ross/KDLG

Some people believe the new emergency order doesn’t go far enough. The Dillingham City Council will vote tonight on whether to extend its declaration of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic until September.

The Dillingham City Council will vote tonight on whether to extend the city’s declaration of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic until September, including whether to extend the city manager’s emergency powers.

The city manager’s authority stems from a City Council vote in November. The council still has the ability to change or reject any actions that are drafted by the manager.

On Tuesday, Interim City Manager Gregg Brelsford issued an emergency order to end Dillingham’s mandatory travel quarantine for people who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection. The order takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday.

It will replace the previous emergency order issued in December that shortened Dillingham’s travel quarantine to 10 days. 

Brelsford said he solicited public comments from the community, and consulted with local health professionals, members of the community’s COVID-19 task force, and representatives from the sport fishing industry before issuing the order. 

“Emergency order 2.0 balances the continuing need for COVID safety for our community and the opportunity to begin to return closer to a normal, pre-COVID life for ourselves and our businesses,” Brelsford said.

The new emergency order keeps some measures in place for people who are not vaccinated. Pre-travel tests will still be required.  They will also still need to complete a modified quarantine upon arrival. 

But that quarantine will now be seven days, rather than 10, if a person tests negative for COVID-19 on or after the fifth day. If people choose to skip the negative test, they will have to quarantine for the full 10 days.

Travel declarations will still be required for every person who comes to the community, regardless of vaccination status. Face masks are also still required in public places. The City still recommends that people continue to practice social distancing as well.

Brelsford said that by May, every person over the age of 15 who wants to get a COVID vaccine will be able to do so.

“We’re now in a different and better situation than we were last year, when COVID first arrived," he said. "A large portion of the community is now vaccinated, and at the rate and supply of vaccinations that are projected in the near future.”

The City’s COVID-19 measures have stoked a vigorous public debate on how much authority it should exercise, and some believe the new relaxed order doesn’t go far enough.

The board of Choggiung Ltd., a village corporation based in Dillingham, sent a resolution to the City asking that it reevaluate the COVID-19 emergency declaration and replace it with health and safety recommendations, effectively getting rid of any mandated restrictions on travel or masking.

The summer season is typically the busiest time of year for the community. CEO and President Cameron Poindexter said that the COVID-19 health and safety restrictions last summer had a big impact on business in the region, and he said that the new emergency order won’t help this season.

“The emergency order is one that will continue to challenge our ability to bring back jobs, to bring back opportunities for people to care for their family, and quite frankly may have such a negative effect on the business community that some of the businesses that had such a rough time last year may not survive this year if business levels don’t get back to normal,” he said.

Poindexter said Choggiung Ltd. and its subsidiaries employ between 50-60 people in the Dillingham area. It has more than 2,000 shareholders, 712 of whom live in Dillingham.

Poindexter believes that COVID-19 restrictions have led to declines in business.

“Wages that we’re not able to pay to people, taxes that we’re not able to pay to the city government, utilities that we’re not able to pay to the local utility companies," he said. "It’s the material purchases in other small businesses around town that we’re not able to make. It potentially means that we’re not able to continue to pay predictable and increasing dividends to our shareholders.”

There will be a public hearing on the extension of the City’s emergency order at 7 p.m. You can also tune in to the City Council’s meeting on KDLG 670AM.

Disclosure: Choggiung Ltd. underwrites with KDLG.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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.
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