In response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, many of Kodiak’s villages have implemented restrictions on travel for nonresidents into their communities.
The communities that have announced restrictions include Larsen Bay, Ouzinkie, Akhiok and Port Lions.
On March 21, Ouzinkie Mayor Elijah Jackson announced that although the city could not restrict access to the state airport, they can restrict access to the community.
The city of Ouzinkie “strongly advises that we halt all non-residential and non-emergency travel until further notice,” Jackson wrote in a statement.
He also requested nonresidents to notify the city of Ouzinkie or the village’s clinic if visitors plan to travel to the community.
Port Lions implemented travel restrictions on Wednesday and advised village residents against non-essential travel.
Port Lions residents who travel off-island must self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the village, announced in a public notice.
Port Lions will also requires residents who travel out-of-state to known coronavirus “hot spots” to self-quarantine for 14 days in Kodiak before returning to the village.
Emergency personnel, utilities and other businesses can travel to Port Lions only if absolutely necessary for the purpose of ensuring continued services to the community (examples include TelAlaska and Kodiak Electric Association).
Personal contact with community residents is to be avoided, announced the city of Port Lions in a public notice.
Visitors to Port Lions traveling from within the state of Alaska are required to self-quarantine for 14 days at their hosts’ residence, the notice states.
The city of Akhiok, a village at the southern end of the island, prohibits visits to all nonresidents. Although visitors can land at the airport, they will not be permitted to enter the village unless they are a resident or emergency response personnel.
“We cannot close a state airport; we can restrict entry into the village,” wrote Akhiok Mayor Dan McCoy in a statement.
Following a decrease in travelers, Island Air Service has limited the number of daily scheduled flights to and from villages.
The company has decreased flights to one per day, whereas previously it scheduled multiple flights per day.
“In the last 10 days we’ve probably seen a reduction in business of 40% to 50%” said Island Air Service CEO Adam Lutz, referring to both scheduled and chartered flights. “Over the next 10 days we are anticipating (a reduction) as high as 80%.”
Village residents depend on the company's flights into Kodiak to access grocery stores, medical visits, the airport and other daily or weekly necessities. They also travel into town to buy gear and equipment, and to see family and friends.
“We are the only scheduled air carrier in Kodiak. We provide all the scheduled flights to and from the villages between Kodiak and the villages,” Lutz said.
“I think there is less coming back and forth to prevent folks from getting it (COVID-19) in the villages like we are trying to mitigate it in Kodiak,” he said.
Island Air has also received a number of cancellations from tourists scheduled to come to the island on bear and goat hunting trips, Lutz said.
“There are clients that are prevented from traveling right now,” Lutz said, referring to military personnel whose traveling is limited by military bans on nonessential travel, as well as international tourists who are prevented from traveling because of closed borders.
With fewer flights, Lutz said he would have to let go of some employees, but will hire them back when the number of flights increases.
“It’s hit us hard,” Lutz said. “People may not realize the significance and the importance of the travel that we provide.”
Commercial airlines RavnAir Alaska and Alaska Airlines are also reducing flights.
Although Alaska Airlines said they will reduce the number of overall flights, no decision has yet been made about where those reductions will take place, Cailee Olson, an Alaska Airlines spokesperson, wrote in an email.
RavnAir will reduce its flying schedule by 30% due to a reduction in passenger bookings, wrote RavnAir spokesperson Debra Reinwand.
The airline will need to “drastically cut costs by reducing its flying schedule by 30% and making the difficult decision to temporarily lay off 146 employees,” she wrote.
With the decrease in travel to villages, Elise Pletnikoff, a doctor at the Kodiak Area Native Association, said the communities are doing a good job at trying to prevent COVID-19 from coming into their villages.
KANA oversees the employees who work at all the village clinics except for Karluk, whose health aid is employed by the tribal council.
“If there is a case in the community, we will try to minimize as much spread as possible. I recommend that people stay at home and minimize socialization,” Pletnikoff said.
She said the communities were trained on the use of personal protective equipment, and the health aides were trained to make sure they are ready to protect themselves, and to screen and test patients.
“We have a robust medical system for the villages. The on-call (KANA) physician is always available by phone and by video,” Pletnikoff said, adding that “health aides have basic training in a lot of areas.”
Each village has at least one health aide who is trained in emergency medical services, routine support and primary care.
“They really help us to keep patients stabilized,” she said.
Each village has been given three test kits, and is able to send them to state testing facilities to be analyzed.
“People who are not sick enough to come into town are being asked to quarantine in place, and stay in their house for two weeks,” the doctor said.
KANA will determine if a patient is sick enough to be transported to town on a case-by-case basis, Pletnikoff said.
If a village resident needs to be transported to Kodiak, KANA will use local emergency airlines such as LifeMed among others to transport patients.
According to LifeMed Alaska CEO Russel Edwards, the company will continue to operate around the state while implementing protocols to protect crew, patients and caregivers from COVID-19.
The company, which maintains a place and crew in Kodiak, will have the ability to transport patients with confirmed a COVID-19 diagnosis or presenting with symptoms compatible with COVID-19, using personal protective equipment.
KDM reporter Iris Samuels contributed to this article.