Ignore coronavirus mandates, pay up to $500

City rejects 2-week ban on inbound air travel; rapid virus testing now available

Local businesses have taken a variety of approaches to ensuring compliance with social distancing mandates. (April 7, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Residents who fail to comply with the city’s emergency mandates may be fined up to $500 under a new ordinance. Emergency Ordinance 1185 was passed unanimously at Cordova City Council’s Monday, April 13 special meeting.

Suspected violations of city health mandates can be reported to the Cordova Police Department, officials said. However, council members recommended offering rule-violators a polite correction rather than calling the police as a first response. The ordinance is not intended as a money-maker for the city, Councilman Jeff Guard said.

“I want us to be very careful that we don’t end up with a police state of some kind and become the COVID Nazis, looking for people,” said Councilman David Allison, who supported the ordinance. “We’ve cautioned the public that we don’t need half of Cordova tattletaling on the other half.”

The ordinance met with strong approval from residents at a public hearing preceding the meeting.

Air travel ban judged legally unsound

More divisive was Emergency Ordinance 1186, which would have halted almost all air travel into Cordova from April 14-29. Although the ordinance was rejected unanimously after City Attorney Holly Wells declared it legally problematic, it reignited debate over whether to restrict the 2020 fishing season to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


Members of the public who sympathized with the ordinance said that a two-week delay would give the city much-needed time to plan for the arrival of fishery workers.

“We must not be overly concerned with restricting people’s liberties when those liberties will come at the expense of other people’s lives,” fisherman Tania Harrison said. “The primary goal here is to protect human life. For that, immediate and bold action is needed… Now is not the time to make a perfect long-term plan. First, we must put immediate, proactive measures in place.”

Entrepreneur and former councilman Ken Jones said that measures like the proposed travel ban would damage a fishing sector already struggling with falling fish prices. Jones noted the irony that many of the same residents who opposed reductions in ferry service were now rallying to restrict air travel.

“Do you really want to add a worse-than-Exxon level economical disaster on top of this very difficult worldwide pandemic?” Jones asked. “If we shut down the airport and attempt to curtail the fishing industry, that’s exactly what will happen in Cordova. We have already lost a huge portion of our economy with the loss of food service and tourism… Local retailers are really struggling.”

Cordova District Fishermen United also opposed the ordinance, CDFU Executive Director Chelsea Haisman said. Such proposed policies give the appearance that the city is not the commercial fishing fleet’s best ally, CDFU board member Ezekiel Brown said.

A temporary travel ban could also create a bottleneck, resulting in a large number of workers arriving as soon as the ban is lifted, Councilman Tom Bailer said.

“If you speak up for the travel hold or other precautions, I think you’re perceived as being anti-fishery and wanting to shut it down, which couldn’t be farther from the truth,” said Kristin Carpenter, former executive director of the Copper River Watershed Project. “I think we are all trying to balance what is a public health crisis with the economy of the town.”

The Alaska Small Community Emergency Travel Order, issued March 27, permits small communities to impose travel restrictions stricter than those issued by the state. The text of the order defines a “small community” as one that has a population lower than 3,000, is removed from the road system and does not house a hub hospital managed by the tribal healthcare system. However, state officials later stated that a community with a critical access hospital, sole community hospital or acute care hospital would be excluded from coverage by the order. As Cordova Community Medical Center is designated a critical access hospital by the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, the city of Cordova would not be permitted by the order to issue stricter travel curtailments than those ordered by the state. This undermined one of the key justifications for Cordova’s Emergency Ordinance 1186. However, the city is still free to pass strict health mandates that are not travel-based.

Statements for and against the ordinance were mingled with pleas for civility. Discussion of the coronavirus on Facebook has sometimes descended into insult-slinging. Recently arrived fishermen have found themselves targets of harassment despite obeying health mandates, said resident Becki Shipman.

“Facebook does damage that we have a really hard time controlling,” Councilman David Glasen said at a Wednesday, April 15 special meeting of city council. “I would caution people about what they’re writing in there, and I would also caution about the personal attacks on people… We’re gonna survive this, and we all have to live together on the other side of COVID-19.”

At its April 13 meeting, city council also passed Emergency Ordinance 1187, revising various sections of the city’s emergency rules and procedures.

Cordova School District employee Romulo Sison distributes milk containers for community children. (April 14, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Rapid testing now available

A device that tests for coronavirus infection in as little as five minutes has arrived at Ilanka Community Health Center, according to an April 9 release from the city. The Abbott ID NOW platform is a 6.6-pound device small enough to be carried under one’s arm, that can also be used to diagnose influenza and other viruses. The device takes longer to return a negative result than a positive one, requiring at least 13 minutes, according to a release by the manufacturer.

Testing with the Abbott ID Now platform became available April 13, according to a release from the city. However, this test will only be available to patients with coronavirus symptoms.  Rapid testing is also available at CCMC, according to an April 15 release.

The Eyak Corporation has authorized up to $200,000 in financial assistance to CCMC and Ilanka to fund equipment purchases and other expenses related to the coronavirus response effort, according to a Tuesday, April 14 release jointly authorized by CCMC, Native Village of Eyak and the Eyak Corporation.

City council decided against spending $250,000 on coronavirus antibody screening supplies from the company Advin Biotech after evidence emerged that the screening supplies may have been counterfeit, according to a release from the city.

As of April 14, 14 coronavirus diagnostic tests have been carried out in Cordova, according to a release from the city. Twelve yielded negative results, with two tests awaiting results. Local health care providers have a combined capacity to test about 300 people, according to the release. Additional testing supplies have been requested, according to the release.

Any positive tests will be publicly reported, regardless of whether or not the patient is a Cordova resident, officials said at the April 15 city council meeting. However, it will not be publicly reported if a patient displaying coronavirus symptoms refuses to be tested.

A colorized transmission electron micrograph of a cell infected with coronavirus particles. (April 9, 2020) Photo courtesy of NIAID

Stores act to discourage hoarding

Businesses have taken various measures to avoid becoming vectors for the coronavirus, from offering free disposable gloves to prohibiting customers from bringing their own shopping bags. Nichols’ Back Door Store has limited purchases of paper towels, toilet paper, rice and other staple items in order to discourage hoarding. Restaurant Baja Taco reopened during the week of April 13, following its regular winter closure, joining The Powder House bar and grill and The Little Cordova Bakery in offering takeaway food.