The Kodiak city government is facing obstacles to its efforts to place greeters inside Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport to inform arriving passengers about COVID-19 protocols and testing.
Mike Tvenge, director of the Kodiak Emergency Services Council, said the greeters were denied access on Tuesday when they tried to inform incoming passengers about the status of the pandemic in the community, and about testing and quarantine protocols.
“When we got out there (on Tuesday), the airport manager said that the decision was to have us not be in the terminal but to be outside,” Tvenge said, which he noted is not ideal with the colder weather.
Kodiak is currently in the yellow, or mid-risk, level, but Tvenge said the status could improve or worsen at any time.
He said the greeters are “just trying to keep (passengers) in the loop so they know what the options are in town. Most of them are locals now, but there are out-of-town guests.”
Tvenge announced last week at a live community update that the city had support for the greeters from the state, which operates the airport.
Marilyn Romano, the regional vice president at Alaska Airlines, which owns the terminal, said the company is working with the city on a plan to have the greeters stand at a “safe place” at the airport.
She said the airline has also been working with the city and the Kodiak Area Native Association to add signage and collection boxes at the terminal, but due to the airport’s small size, it is not feasible to have greeters inside the airport.
Romano said the company wants to ensure that passengers arriving at Kodiak can pick up their bags and exit quickly as departing passengers arrive. The airline suggested that greeters stand outside the door of the terminal to hand out the information and direct guests to the testing site.
“This practice is working well in other places and is the safest,” she said. “Our recommendation is in line with protocols we have in place with our other terminals in Alaska.”
Tvenge said the city is trying to avoid having the greeters stand outside because of cold winter weather.
“We are going to speak to others and see if we can still achieve our goal of greeting passengers in our terminal,” he said.
Romano said Alaska Airlines is confident that a solution can be reached for the greeters to be present at the airport.
Since late spring, many community members have wondered why no one has been placed at the airport to remind passengers of COVID-19 protocols. With the recent uptick in travel-related cases on the island, local borough officials decided to hire greeters for the airport.
“What we are seeing is a lot of cases are coming in through travel-related infections, and this has been a topic of the community all summer long. How do we control the airport?” Tvenge said.
The Kodiak ESC announced five new positive COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Three cases are Kodiak residents whose contraction of the virus is unknown and are classified as community spread. Two cases are residents who are close contacts of previously announced cases.
This brings the case count in Kodiak to 151 with 17 active cases.
Statewide, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported 493 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths on Wednesday. Two of the deaths occurred in Anchorage, one in Fairbanks and one in Juneau.