Testing and screening at the James A. Johnson Airport could continue through next June. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved an agreement for voluntary COVID-19 testing for employees at the borough’s Mountain View Manor assisted living facility. They also voted to extend other agreements for airport testing and quarantine or isolation space for individuals without a permanent home.

After voting down mandatory testing for manor workers earlier in the month, assembly member Jeff Meucci wanted to see a vote on a voluntary testing program.

“I think this is a good first step,” Meucci said. “I think the next step that has to happen is what would trigger something other than a voluntary testing program up at the manor. That’s probably a discussion for another day. But I think the voluntary testing program will work fine.”

Other assembly members highlighted the importance of testing to avoid an outbreak.

The Petersburg Medical Center would do the testing of those employees at no cost, under the agreement considered Monday. Manor administrator Shelyn Bell clarified to the assembly that manor workers have been able to be tested without symptoms on a voluntary basis since the start of the pandemic.

“I just appreciate the voluntary part of that,” Bell said. “I appreciate PMC doing this for us and the fact that I had so many staff members that were willing to leave if it was mandatory, that was my licensing specialist’s biggest fear, was losing staff.”

A number of the manor workers opposed the mandatory testing discussed at the first meeting this month. But the agreement between the borough and the medical center for a voluntary program was passed unanimously by a full assembly.

The vote was also unanimous to extend agreements for COVID testing at the airport through the end of next June. That could bring the community’s total payment from the state to $968,225. The bulk of that, $793,400 could go to the medical center for the greeting, screening and testing of travelers.

And it was a unanimous vote to extend a rental agreement with the Narrows Inn for two rooms through the end of May. Those rooms can be used by homeless individuals who are quarantining or isolating while recovering from COVID or awaiting test results. Three people have used that program since the borough started it last May but no one since last May. That program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state of Alaska.