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Kodiak village mayors talk COVID-19 prevention protocols

An aerial view of the village of Larsen Bay in December, 2019. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)
An aerial view of the village of Larsen Bay in December, 2019. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

With populations ranging from 30 to 250 people, Kodiak’s villages aren’t taking risks when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most have shut the communities down to nearly all non-resident travel and implemented strict social distancing measures for residents.

“Here in Akhiok, we’re making it. Everybody’s on board [that] we should stay the course,” said Akhiok mayor Dan McCoy. He said they recently extended their travel restrictions to the end of May.

“We’re not even considering letting any non essential people come in.”

Even as fishing season ramps up for the nearby Alitak Cannery, McCoy said they’re keeping seasonal workers completely separated from the 70-person community. Cannery workers will land on Akhiok’s runway, go straight to the beach and take a skiff to the cannery five miles away.

Without a village public safety officer, or VPSO, in Ouzinkie, mayor Elijah Jackson said cobbling together an emergency response protocol has been a challenge. Jackson said they worked with Ouzinkie tribal leaders, the village health aide and the fire chief to develop a plan to insulate the community, including stopping most travel to the island and prohibiting visits between households.

In a tight-knit community, some of the social distancing is hard to get used to, but he said most people are on board.

“It’s really hard to ask people to stay at home, especially when you’re on such a beautiful island [with] beautiful days coming up, [to] not go see your family members who live right down the street,” Jackson said.

“That gets really hard and I definitely understand it, but with the way our community is with the elders we have here, I don’t want one person here to get it.”

Port Lions did not set up travel restrictions beyond the statewide mandate limiting all non-essential travel. Mayor Dorinda Kewan said they’re still hoping the restrictions ease up this summer, when the village’s lodges and guides expected to be busy with visitors.

“So maybe part of the tourism season can be salvaged,” she said. “Because that’s going to be a huge hit and huge impact for us locally if our lodges aren’t able to operate. And they may not be able to … it’s just a big question mark right now.”

While most village residents aren’t able to fly into town for supplies, deliveries of groceries and other essentials are continuing by plane and boat, with the added requirement that pilots and crew wear masks and comply with health screenings. Kodiak Area Native Association and the various regional native corporations are also assisting with food and supply deliveries.