Even as more Sitkans sign up and receive vaccinations for the coronavirus, the city is stepping up efforts to maintain safety standards for businesses.

The “Covid Conscious Business” program has been created under the city’s Planning Department, in consultation with the Sitka Chamber of Commerce.

Health officials warn that, even with the arrival of vaccines, the kind of mass immunity needed to end the pandemic is still months away. Sitka Planning Director Amy Ainslie explained that businesses were adapting to this reality, and the Covid Conscious Business program was there to help.

“The one thing I’ve taken away from being a part of this program is how genuinely impressed I am with the business community of Sitka,” Ainslie said. “How people have stepped up to make the necessary changes we need to keep the community safe. So what we want to do is support and recognize the businesses that are really following best practices, putting in a lot of extra work, and at times making sacrifices to keep businesses operating in this environment.”

Ainslie made her comments as part of the Sitka Chamber’s “Winter Speaker Series” on January 27. Eight businesses in Sitka have signed up so far to participate in the program, which involves an initial walk-through by Ainslie, followed by a short application. Ainslie said it was important for businesses to signal to their customers that they cared about their safety.

Shauna Thornton, branch manager at First National Bank, said the resources provided by the program had helped align the bank’s own corporate safety protocols with the city’s, and employees and customers had more clarity about safety rules.

“At first when we were requiring masks we had people who may or may not have wanted to do it,” said Thornton, “and now we’re finding it’s (the Covid Conscious Business program) helping to educate everyone as to why we’re doing it. So we’re having a whole lot less angst over wearing or not wearing.”

Fortress of the Bear co-founder Evy Kinnear said that her front-line team developed a set of safety protocols on their own for last year’s reduced visitor season. Although there was some tension over masking policies, Kinnear says that most visitors were cooperative. She’s glad that the Sitka’s Covid Conscious Business program has put everyone on the same page.

“People were really supportive of what our beliefs were,” Kinnear said. “We bought all the equipment we needed: Lots of extra masks and cleaning supplies, and went beyond what we thought what we needed to do. And this year luckily you guys started this program, and as we reassessed where we were and what we needed to do, we could tie in with the city.”

Participating businesses receive numerous benefits, from information to pass along to “covid conscious consumers,” to custom signs about mask wearing, to publication on a list of “covid conscious businesses.” There is no cost for joining the program. You can find more information and a link to the application here.