A welcome sign in Yakutat, pictured here in 2017. The town is working to prevent COVID-19 infections while bracing for a potential outbreak. (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

Yakutat mayor Cindy Bremner is watching with trepidation as COVID-19 spreads, concerned about how the virus would impact her small, isolated town. 

“We’re up here in a pretty remote area but people are feeling rather exposed because of the plane and the influx of people,” Bremner said.

Yakutat is in a particularly tough spot when it comes to preventing and managing a potential outbreak of the virus. Like many rural towns, Yakutat has limited medical resources. Just one small community health center, and no ventilators — a crucial piece of medical equipment for critical cases of the virus. 

At the same time, the town has daily Alaska Air flights, and is a significant fishing hub. This combination of accessibility and lack of medical resources has Bremner worried that the virus could easily slip into town, and that an outbreak would be difficult to contain. 

“So that also makes it scary that knowing that, you know, someone gets sick with this that puts our existing healthcare workers at risk,” she said.

She supports Governor Mike Dunleavy’s order that anyone arriving in Alaska self-quarantine for fourteen days — backed up by a $25,000 fine for failure to comply. Bremner hopes people abide by it. 

“So hopefully people are strongly following the mandate and we’ve been really trying to push the social distancing and reminding people of that,” Bremner said.

The city has taken steps to prepare, including declaring a local emergency and setting up a large, heated tent to increase the health center’s capacity in case an outbreak occurs.