As the coronavirus pandemic makes its way to the remote lower Yukon villages, some of them are banding together to lock down their communities to stop the virus from spreading.
The coastal community of Kotlik first shut down for two weeks when they heard that the coronavirus had reached Mountain Village. Then, it announced another lockdown on July 14 when its neighbor, Emmonak, received word that a resident who had tested positive had entered into the community.
“This is a challenge for Kotlik being out here. Since the lockdown, there’s a lot of people, you know, for the upriver that come for subsistence purposes: berry picking and hunting,” said Pauline Okitkun, Kotlik’s tribal administrator.
Before the coronavirus reached the lower Yukon area, Kotlik and its neighbors, Alakanuk and Emmonak, promised each other that should one village get a positive case, all three would shut down to keep the virus from spreading.
“‘Cause we knew if we didn’t lock down, their people would try to come over and go shopping and whatnot. So to help enforce a lockdown, we did a lockdown,” said Juanita Joseph, Alukanuk tribal administator.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation sent a team to Emmonak to test residents. About 500 have been tested so far, out of a 2010 Census-recorded population of 760. Alakanuk has a population of 773, and Kotlik has about 577 people living there. All three villages require travelers to receive permission from the tribe. Okitkun says that people who are coming in to subsist must avoid the village altogether.
“So once they’re done doing their subsistence gathering, they need to depart or they need to leave,” Okitkun said.
Kotlik is roughly 40 miles from Emmonak and 50 miles from Alakanuk. It’s unclear when the lockdowns will end, but Joseph says that Alukanuk could lift their lockdown as soon as next week.