Public buildings are being closed and events canceled locally and across the state following the announcement of Alaska’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
Both the cities of Kenai and Soldotna shut down public buildings. In Kenai, the Kenai Community Library And Kenai Senior Center will be closed between March 16 and March 22.
The city will evaluate the need to extend the closure as “events unfold,” Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said in a Saturday morning email announcement.
Due dates for borrowed materials will be adjusted accordingly at the library and book drops will remain available during this closure, the announcement said.
Staff at the Kenai Senior Center will continue to provides meals to the seniors in the community who rely on that service, however, meals will no longer be served at the facility, Ostrander said. Staff will be reaching out to seniors over the next several days to explain new processes.
“We will assure that the needs of our most vulnerable seniors are met during this closure,” Ostrander said in the announcement.
“The decision to close these facilities was difficult and we understand that there will be impacts to members of our community, however, in light of the actions of the State and other municipalities around the State, we feel these closures are necessary,” Ostrander said in the announcement.
In Soldotna, the city is closing the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex and the Soldotna Library until March 29, beginning Sunday.
“I do not make these decisions lightly, and understand the disruption facility closures will have for residents in our community,” Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said in a Saturday press release.
Both city halls and other city departments will remain open for usual business. Emergency services and other critical departments will also maintain regular operations in both cities.
Jury trials in Kenai are on hold, the Nikiski Recreation Center is shut down for a week and the Capitol building in Juneau is closed to the public.
Starting Monday, all buildings at the North Peninsula Recreation Center in Nikiski and the Sea Otter Community Center in Seldovia will be closed to the public, a Friday press release from the Kenai Peninsula Borough said. The public buildings are scheduled to reopen March 22.
“The borough administration is aware that this decision may create added hardships to families that already have to find a place to take students as a result of the extended spring break,” the release said.
Staff at these institutions will remain on current work schedule, which may be “re-evaluated” if an extended closure is required, the release said.
Fire and emergency services, emergency dispatch services and solid waste transfer facilities will continue to stay open, the release said.
Soldotna Parks and Recreation announced via Facebook that all of the Soldotna Parks and Recreation-sponsored events are canceled to encourage “community mitigation” and “social distancing.” This includes the city’s skating classes and all of the Community Schools Classes.
Next week, jury trials in Anchorage, Palmer and Kenai are suspended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, the Alaska Court System said in a Friday press release.
Grand jury proceedings in Anchorage and other locations will continue and assemble as scheduled. Grand juries convening next week may be moved to larger spaces to accommodate social distancing needs.
“If proceedings and services need to be reduced, the courts will continue to perform essential functions and ensure due process,” the release said. While some delays are inevitable, the court system will continue to perform essential functions.”
Essential functions include domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault protective orders, emergency mental health proceedings, criminal arraignments, bail hearings, changes of plea hearings, search warrants, Emergency Child in Need of Aid hearings, delinquency hearings and emergency guardianship petitions.
Courthouses statewide have implemented procedures to reduce the transmission of the virus among employees and the public, including hygiene practices and social distancing measures, the release said. On March 19, the Alaska Supreme Court is scheduled to consider an emergency order relaxing court rules to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and in the event of an outbreak.
Even the state Capitol in Juneau is closing in response to the arrival of the new coronavirus. Access into the Capitol beginning 5 p.m. Friday will be limited to lawmakers, staff and journalists, a Friday press release from the Alaska Legislature said.
The move was part of a series of initial actions recommended by the newly formed Legislative Council Subcommittee on Emergency Response and Preparedness. The release said legislative work will continue as normal and Alaskans are able to participate in the public process by following meetings on Gavel Alaska, AKL.tv and through written and telephonic testimony.
“To protect Alaskans and ensure the people’s business continues in a timely and transparent manner, the Legislature has acted to limit the spread of the virus,” Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, chair of the Legislative Council Subcommittee on Emergency Response and Preparedness said. “After several lengthy discussions, and in accordance with CDC guidelines, we will reduce interpersonal contact in the Capitol to limit exposure to the new coronavirus.”
Some local businesses are also taking extra precautions to make sure residents are practicing social distance.
Everything Bagels said on social media Friday that they are taking steps to prevent exposure to COVID-19, including extra sanitation of shop surfaces. The bagel shop is also offering a new drive-up option for ordering. Customers can call in their orders, park on the side of the shop and their food will be brought to them.
“Although this idea was developed as a way to expand services to our customers prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we think it will also be a helpful way to socially distance yourself from others, but not from the bagels that you love,” Everything Bagels wrote in their social media post.
Because of the concern of COVID-19, Veronica’s Cafe in Kenai posted on Facebook on Friday they will be taking preventative measures for the next few weeks. They announced they will be offering takeout containers for no charge and reminded patrons to-go orders are an option. The cafe said they are limiting seating inside to allow more distance between customers.
Lucy’s Market in Soldotna also took to social media Friday to let residents know they are sanitizing their work space more than normal. They reminded patrons food orders can be made to go, as well.
In response to the outbreak concern, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce announced ways residents who are looking to social distance themselves could support local businesses. The chamber is recommending residents purchase gift cards to be used at a later time and ordering takeout or delivery from local restaurants.
There are 1,629 cases across the U.S. in 47 other states and 41 total deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization named the COVID-19 disease a global pandemic. The last global pandemic was in 2009 when H1N1, a novel influenza A virus, spread across the U.S. and then the world, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Symptoms for the disease include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the disease.