The Sitka Assembly is holding the line on its 14-day quarantine policy for all people arriving in the community, for now. During an emergency session held Tuesday (5-5-20) the assembly debated allowing a small subset of essential workers to go straight to work, without quarantining.  Instead, members held off on the partial roll-back, and will consider downgrading the full quarantine at their next regular meeting. 

Under the current ordinance, everyone arriving in Sitka, including most essential workers — except health care workers — must self-quarantine for 14 days. 

The proposed change would have allowed an exception for workers for public works projects, community-based government operation, and private construction. These employees could go straight to work when arriving in Sitka, provided they seek written approval from the city first. Mitigation plans would still be required.  

The policy was intended to allow certain critical city, state, and federal projects to continue, said city administrator John Leach. 

“For the city projects, the way I evaluate this is not to just keep the city projects going, it’s to keep city projects going that are essential to the public good,” he said.

Leach said the state Department of Transportation is in its summer construction season, and construction projects could be delayed or potentially not completed at all under the city’s quarantine order which is more stringent than the state’s.

“Some of their contractors like K&E and Seacon had to have workers come in from outside of Sitka to either repair equipment or continue on those road projects,” he said. “One of the risks was Sawmill Creek could potentially not get done this year if they are not able to come in.” 

City projects at risk included work at Crescent Harbor, and work on the Marine Street Substation.

Over a dozen residents gave public comment on the ordinance amendment. Some were in support of keeping the quarantine rule in place for all travelers, and not rolling any of the order back.  Others said that the quarantine rule was an overreach as a whole and the assembly shouldn’t rescind parts of it, piecemeal, to prioritize city and state projects.

Luke Johnson wrote, “I’d encourage you not to play favorites and either abide by the one-size-fits-all ordinance, or consider rescinding/rewriting the ordinance in its entirety.”

Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz agreed, saying it wasn’t fair to businesses that would still be required to quarantine incoming workers. 

“I don’t like legislating special privileges for what we deem prudent and necessary at the time,” he said. “I can’t support this ordinance because it does give special privileges just to us. But would be interested in perhaps, if that’s the way the assembly wants to go, a full-scale downgrade of it entirely.”

Member Richard Wein said the local quarantine ordinance wasn’t sufficient to keep the coronavirus out of Sitka.  

“How many holes in a seine net does it take to make your seine net not functional?” Wein asked. “What I’m seeing is an enormous array of contradictory rules, et cetera, that are now piling up, which makes all of this non-functional.”

Wein said they needed to rescind the entire quarantine ordinance at their next meeting and align Sitka’s rules with the state’s 

Both Wein and Eisenbeiz voted against rescinding the quarantine ordinance when the assembly met on April 23. Their interest in discussing a full reversal signaled that there could now be five votes to roll back the 14-day quarantine requirement entirely. 

Mayor Gary Paxton, who supported rescinding the quarantine the first time around along with members Valorie Nelson and Kevin Mosher, still wanted the amendment to pass so that work on public projects could move forward quickly. 

“These are projects that affect our entire town and the well-being of our town, whether you’re talking about the wastewater plant or the marine substation, which is the most critical electrical structure in town, notwithstanding the dams and the two power plants.”

The  vote to amend the quarantine ordinance failed 3-3, with members Kevin Mosher, Thor Christianson and Gary Paxton voting in favor of the amendment.

Member Valorie Nelson, who abstained from voting due to a “substantial financial interest” said she would sponsor a motion to rescind the entire order at its next meeting. 

If the local quarantine order is fully rescinded when the assembly meets on May 12, that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all for travelers coming into Sitka. The state travel mandate is still in effect (until rescinded). But there are many exceptions for workers deemed “critical to infrastructure” who can avoid a 14-day quarantine.

As for the local “Shelter-in-Place” order, it expires on May 12 unless an assembly member brings an extension to the table for consideration and it passes.