Like many people around the country, Berett Wilber headed home for a visit, and found herself on an extended stay. Born and raised in Sitka, Wilber has worked as a reporter, photo journalist, and as deputy press secretary to Alaska Gov. Bill Walker. She spent Wednesday, March 18, walking through downtown Sitka, to learn what social distancing looks like in a small, island community.
The Sitka Pioneer Home, which can care for up to 75 residents, closed its doors to all visitors — including family members of their residents — to protect seniors, who are particularly at-risk to COVID-19. While the Sitka Sound Science Center is closed to the public thanks to COVID-19, its full-time residents still need attention. With other staff out of town, volunteer Taylor White has an unusual task in terms of stepping up to take on local virus response: it falls on her to make sure Pearl, the Great Pacific octopus, is fed. ”I’m stoked that I can fill in right now,” White says. “I still get to have really fun interactions without people, and I just get to hang out with crazy critters. It’s nice to have something important to do, and to help, by taking care of them.” Cedar Pook is a barber at Re:fresh salon. He says he gave haircuts to three people today, but has posted a sign-up sheet outside the door so only one can enter at a time. Pook graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in 2017, and says he’s thinking of his peers who were sent home this week, particular the seniors who are likely to miss both their prom and their graduation. Tyler N. Connors was one of a few shoppers out getting the essentials today: In her case, a new pair of Xtratufs from Russell’s for her husband. Russell’s owner Steven Eisenbeisz wipes down the door handle to his store with a 10:1 solution of water and bleach today, before the store moves to curbside pick-up indefinitely. “There’s not going to be anybody in town who’s not affected by this,” says the Sitka Assembly member. “It’s our responsibility to stop the congregating and limit groups. We don’t want to do it, but I don’t think there’s any other choice.” “I assume at some point they’re just going to tell everybody to stay home,” says Ashia Lane, owner of Old Harbor Books. She headed out to hand-deliver puzzles to a customer, since switching the store to exclusively delivery and curbside service. “Until then, I’m going to work by myself everyday. I’m getting a lot done, but man, it sucks. We miss our humans.” Mike Creek is a barista at the Backdoor Cafe, which was still offering full service to customers on the last day before the Governor’s ban on restaurants, cafes, and bars goes into effect at 5 P.M. March 18. They’ve had customers, but not as many as usual. “It’s not a ghost town,” he says. “But it feels like a slow day in January.” Although there were some folks out walking in downtown Sitka today, many appeared to be social distancing from each other — just not from Nugget the Corgi. Patrons grab a drink at the Pioneer Bar in the afternoon of March 18, before the bar closes indefinitely at 5 P.M. thanks to a state mandate. “It’s weird,” says bartender Jeannette Hansen, who grew up in Sitka and is used to closing the bar at 2 A.M. “This is the first time I’ve opened the bar and closed the bar in a single shift. Never thought I’d do that.” Like most state-run buildings and offices, the Sitka LIO is closed until further notice. But that didn’t stop LIO workers from making sure citizens of Sitka have what they need: PFD applications are posted up outside. With restaurants and bars set to close at 5 P.M. statewide on March 18, the outside patio of the Mean Queen at Totem Square was empty by 3:30 p.m. Jerry Strelow manages traditional foods at the Sitka Tribe of Alaska. Alhough the Tribe’s offices are closed to the public, Strelow went out to pull a skate today, and the lingcod he caught will be shared with elders in the community. “That’s why I’m wearing the mask,” he says.