Uncertain Summer in Alaska

Like other economies across the world, Alaska has already faced challenges this year. Oil and gas prices have been slashed, tourism levels have been reduced dramatically since cruising is currently restricted. Another challenge Alaska will face involves the return of the summer fishing season and the risk that seasonal workers will bring more coronavirus cases with them.

Fishing Season Brings Summer Workers

Alaska’s peak fishing season runs from May through September. With the influx of non-resident summer workers that head to small fishing communities in rural Alaska each year to work, residents worry that Covid-19 will be brought with them. Community officials and Tribal leaders debated whether or not to even have a fishing season this year to help reduce the presence and spread of coronavirus. Local hospitals are small and would be unable to handle an even moderate influx of patients with such limited medical resources. This time of year is critical to the state’s economic success, so the season was opened.

Fisheries are working with new protocols for maintaining worker safety, but many facilities usually have workers in close quarters in the work environment and shared living areas. This is also the case aboard shipping vessels that have a processing facility onboard. One way the state is aiming to stop outbreaks and the spread is through testing.

Testing ramps up for visitors

Alaska has been requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people traveling into the state. But since the beginning of June, there is a new system. With the land border to and from Canada closed to most traffic, the main entry point is the airport. When arriving in Alaska, you are required to be tested for Covid-19 instead of just automatically quarantining. You can get tested before you travel, but within 72 hours of departure, and use the results to gain entry. If you are unable to be tested before travel, you will be tested at the airport and then you will be asked to self-quarantine until you receive the results in approximately 72 hours. One thing to note, though, you have to pay for your accommodations during your quarantined period, so it is in your best interest to get tested before travel. There are some conditions where you would need to be retested before you can begin work and resume interactions with others. You can read more details about the process here. This process may be adjusted during the next few months.

Cruise Tourism

Also important to many communities in Alaska are the tourism dollars brought in each year by passengers on Alaskan cruises. With port excursions, meals, and shopping, Alaska brings in over $800 million from cruise tourism. With this year’s “no sail” restrictions until at least late July due to Covid-19, it is estimated that 1 million passengers won’t visit Alaska in 2020 as usual. Even if restrictions are lifted late in the summer, rules for social distancing aboard the ships will mean fewer travelers on board. There may be cruise lines that cancel the 2020 season altogether, to avoid the risk of outbreaks.

As with many other locations around the world, economies and populations will struggle, adapt, and recover over time. It is too early to know the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 will have on Alaska, but finding the balance between health and safety and economic recovery will be critical moving forward.

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