Skagway hunkers down after confirming its first case of COVID-19

Skagway, as it appeared from the air, in 2015.
Skagway as it appeared from the air in 2015. (Photo by S. Millard/National Park Service)

Officials in Skagway are asking residents to hunker down following the community’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, reported on Wednesday. The town of fewer than 1,000 people has been vigilant in keeping the coronavirus out, in anticipation of the return of cruise ships next year.

With more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 among Alaska residents, Skagway was one of the last boroughs without any cases. Now state public health nurses are conducting contact tracing after a resident tested positive at the Dahl Memorial Clinic.

Borough Manager Brad Ryan said Skagway’s Emergency Operations Center takes the development very seriously. Residents are asked to shelter in place until contract tracing is complete.

“The obvious concern is we’re a very small, tight knit community, so we have a lot of contact with each other,” Ryan said. “So the first concern is limiting that contact for a short amount of time so that we don’t spread it throughout the entire town.”

Ryan said that means limiting activity, travel and business functions to only the most basic and essential needs.

“We’ve sent all our staff home — or not all of our staff, but most of our staff — we’ve issued a shelter in place for the community. We’re contacting businesses now to limit access to the public. School has just let out,” Ryan said.

The school district sent students home early on Wednesday. The superintendent confirmed there will be no school Thursday while the district evaluates emerging information from the state’s health department.

Skagway has been vigilant because of its size, and because much of its economy is riding on cruise ships returning next year. The borough is using its federal pandemic relief to pay $1,000 monthly to each man, woman and child in the borough, to keep residents from leaving. But barring another pandemic relief bill passing Congress, it’s unlikely for that to continue in 2021.

Anyone who has come into contact with the infected person is being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and undergo two tests before going out in public or mixing with others. The typical incubation period for the virus is between two and 14 days

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