(Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The State’s emergency declaration expired over the weekend. However, masking rules and most other protocols in Petersburg will not change around town or at the schools, at least for the time being. KFSK’s Angela Denning has more:

Alaska’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expired Sunday. But what does that mean for Petersburg’s local mandates? For some of them. . .nothing.

“The face covering mandate is not affected,” said Karl Hagerman, Commander of the local Emergency Operations Center, which is responding to the pandemic.

Another mandate that is not affected is the in-person participation at public meetings mandate.

Hagerman says ending the state’s declaration was political and not medical in nature. He says the EOC wants all of the local mandates to continue.

“They are still very important in the EOC’s view to protect Petersburg and get us to the end of this,” he said.

Some mandates must be rewritten to continue because they reference the state’s declaration. Those include the harbor access mandate, the travel plans for businesses mandate, and the intrastate travel mandate. Hagerman says the borough assembly will consider the rewritten mandates at their regular meeting, February 22. He says the harbor mandate was set to expire by the end of the month and had to be reviewed anyway.

The EOC is also drafting new mandates to fill in the gap left by the state’s declaration expiring. That includes a mandate requiring testing after inter-state and international travel. Juneau has already passed such a mandate.

As of today, COVID testing at the airport is optional. Hagerman hopes that will go back to mandatory after the assembly meeting.

“The health advisories that the state is relying on now are not badly written but being that they’re optional,” said Hagerman, “we are still seeing some people test but it has dropped off.”

Hagerman says a positive thing coming from the state’s change is that testing for non-residents is now free at the airport. The state’s previous health order required out-of-state travelers to pay $250 for a test.

The state will continue funding airport testing until the contract ends with the borough June 30.

However, testing is still mandatory by the Petersburg School District for students and staff returning from travel.

“At this point, our travel policy is still in place,” said Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter.

She says unless she gets new recommendations from the state’s Department of Health and Social Service or medical professionals, the travel policy will stay. It requires five days of quarantine and proof of a negative test result after both in-state and out-of-state travel.

“We’re half way through February, you know, we’re going to have spring break, there’s going to be travel,” Kludt-Painter said. “Unless I hear differently, it doesn’t seem like a responsible, prudent thing for us to not have some requirements around that.”

Kludt-Painter says COVID protocols on campus like masking will also continue for now.

“Our procedures and protocols at this point are still the recommended practices even in the Governor’s own transition plan,” she said. “The recommendations of the advisories are very clear still.”

Hagerman says the EOC wants the public to know that they are working closely with the school district and the Petersburg Medical Center to continue to protect the public.

“And I know that many people have different opinions on how that should be done and how good of job we’re doing,” Hagerman said. “But it truly is our goal to not have anybody get sick or have to be moved out of town for increased medical care and to keep our businesses open, our school open.”

Hagerman says the community has been very successful so far in the pandemic. He hopes that can continue into the spring and summer when more visitors come to town.

The borough assembly meeting is Monday at 6 p.m. KFSK will be broadcasting the meeting.