All fishing vessels must sign coronavirus safety agreements

All fishing boats operating in the waters of Cordova will be required to agree to coronavirus safety measures. (March 18, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Businesses and individuals, including fishing vessel operators, will be required to sign coronavirus safety agreements to conduct commercial operations in Cordova. These “mutual aid agreements” were announced Friday, March 27 by Mayor Clay Koplin.

Under a mutual aid agreement, an operator must educate their employees about coronavirus symptoms and safety measures that may prevent infection, ensure compliance with the city’s coronavirus emergency rules and complete a health risk assessment form for all operators and employees working in Cordova or its waters. An operator must notify the city within 24 hours if any individual fails a health risk assessment and confirm that that individual has been placed under quarantine. An operator also agrees to notify the city if any operator, employee or contractor tests positive for the coronavirus after or during working in Cordova or its waters. An operator must additionally provide the city with a written statement describing the steps that have been taken to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Cordova Emergency Order 2020-02, requiring commercial operators to sign these agreements, went into effect Monday, March 30.

“We know that some of the rules and procedures we are implementing will cause hardship for our community, but we must do everything we can to protect the health of Cordova’s most vulnerable residents, and these rules and procedures provide maximum protection to all our community members in the least restrictive way possible to our way of life,” Koplin said at a March 27 press conference announcing this and other measures.

Fish processing and other businesses related to the maritime trades are considered critical infrastructure by the state and may not be interfered with by the city, Koplin said.

Increased social distancing measures

As of Wednesday, April 1, there have been no cases of the coronavirus confirmed in Cordova. The city decided not to publicly disclose the number of coronavirus tests carried out in Cordova, according to a March 29 release.

“In a community as small and close-knit as Cordova, the city of Cordova’s COVID-19 Incident Management Team feels it is best not to reveal the exact number of individuals tested at this time to protect patient privacy,” Koplin said. “Any test which comes back positive for COVID-19 in Cordova will be reported to the public immediately.”

As of April 1, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Alaska has risen to 143, according to Department of Health and Social Services data.

As well as mandating commercial operators to sign mutual aid agreements, Emergency Order 2020-02 established new social distancing protocols. Under the emergency order, anyone arriving in Cordova must self-isolate at home for 14 days. Fairly broad exceptions are provided allowing individuals to complete work in critical fields, to seek essential healthcare or to engage in outdoor activities that don’t require being within 6 feet of others. This applies even to travelers who have arrived in Cordova from locations inside Alaska. These protocols were supplemented by a March 27 state mandate banning non-critical travel between communities within Alaska. Where applicable, state mandates supersede local mandates.

Though many residents have requested that Cordova’s airport be closed, the state has said that this is not a valid option, as airports provide a critical service to rural communities, according to a March 29 release from the city of Cordova.

Grocery stores and other designated essential businesses have endeavored to follow health guidelines while continuing to serve customers. (April 1, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Under the city’s emergency order, even those who have not traveled outside of Cordova for more than 14 days must maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from non-household members. This protocol coincides with a March 27 state mandate also requiring Alaskans to remain at least 6 feet away from non-household members. In practice, these protocols have proven difficult to follow for some customer service workers, such as cashiers.

Cordova City Council’s April 1 regular meeting and public hearing will be closed to in-person attendance by the public. The meeting will be viewable on the city’s YouTube channel, and members of the public will be able to offer comment by phone.

A late-March shortage of butter, milk and eggs seemed to have passed by April 1, at which point ample quantities could be found on the shelves of AC Value Center. Cordova businesses have taken varying measures to avoid becoming vectors for the coronavirus: Nichols’ Back Door Store now offers free disposable gloves to shoppers, while AC Value Center greets entering customers with a brief health questionnaire and temperature screening.

State and local law officers will respond to complaints about violations of social distancing mandates, or when they observe obvious violations that jeopardize public safety, according to a March 27 state of Alaska release. However, the primary focus will be on education rather than enforcement, according to the release.

Cordova City Council’s Wednesday, April 1 regular meeting and public hearing will be closed to in-person public attendance. (March 18, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

City waives late fees on utilities

The city of Cordova will waive all interest and late fees on utilities for the upcoming two billing cycles, according to a March 30 announcement. The city will also waive penalties on interest for sales taxes due for first and second quarter filings, in order to avoid cash-flow issues. Residents are encouraged to file their quarterly reports on time, whether or not they make their payments by the usual deadline, according to the announcement.