Bethel plans to incentivize airport testing for coronavirus

After two individuals in Bethel were notified of positive coronavirus test results on consecutive days, the city is wondering if there are more undetected cases in Bethel.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation reports that less than 60% of passengers who arrive at Bethel’s airport are volunteering for testing. The city has plans to try to increase that number to 100%.

On back-to-back days this week, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced that someone in Bethel had received a positive test result for COVID-19. YKHC said that neither individual is a Bethel resident, and the corporation is “highly confident” that both cases are travel-related. 

On June 10, after the first of the cases was announced, the City of Bethel temporarily escalated its Emergency Operation Center to a Level Three activation, the highest level. But within an hour, City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza de-escalated the EOC back to a Level Two.

“Because we don’t know if it’s community spread,” Corazza said.

“Community spread” would mean that the virus was being transmitted within the city, but Corazza remains cautious. YKHC has stated that only 25% to 60% of passengers arriving at the Bethel airport are volunteering for coronavirus testing. Corazza is concerned that more positive cases of COVID-19 could have entered Bethel without being tested.

“If it’s 100% testing, is this a back-to-back, or is this actually more?” Corazza asked.

The city is hoping to deploy some of its $8.4 million of CARES Act funding to bring the percentage of passengers opting in for testing at the airport up to 100%. Corazza said that since the testing has to be voluntary, the city could offer an incentive.

“Whether it’s a gift card, or a raffle ticket for some prize, but some kind of a financial incentive to catch people’s attention to go get tested,” Corazza said.

Corazza said that the city attorney has already conducted legal analysis to determine that this would be an appropriate use of CARES Act funding. He said that if YKHC approves of the plan, the city will add a booth to the testing center at the Bethel airport as soon as possible.