Kake city officials seek to restrict travel over COVID-19

A photo taken from the water of a handful of painted wooden houses and a church steeple with mountains in the backgrorund.
Kake, Alaska in 2012 (Photo from DCRA Community Photo Database)

Kake’s city government said Tuesday that travel to and from the Southeast island community is restricted until further notice. That’s following the village’s first confirmed COVID-19 case announced the day before.

Some 30 close contacts of Kake’s first COVID-19 patient have been cleared of the virus, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium said Tuesday. The tribal health consortium continues its effort to screen the entire community of about 500 people on Kupreanof Island.

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“SEARHC has encouraged community wide testing and will continue to make it available for any resident that requests testing,” the tribal health consortium’s spokeswoman Maegan Bosak wrote in a statement.

Nearly half of Kake’s residents — about 250 — lined up for COVID-19 testing the same day the Southeast island community reported a woman in her 60s had been medevacked out of the community. Additional screening was held Tuesday morning. 

Swabs are being sent to SEARHC’s Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka with results expected back within 48 hours, Bosak added.

Kake’s community is close-knit where everyone shops at the same store and fuels up at the same gas station, says Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake, the community’s federally recognized tribe.

It can spread rather quickly, and we’re hoping that it hasn’t,” Jackson told CoastAlaska. “You know, it was good news to hear that her immediate family tested negative. So we’re hoping that we don’t come back with a bunch of positives.”

Kake remained on lockdown Tuesday. City, tribal and other public offices have closed. Kake’s city government has instituted some of the strictest COVID-19 precautions in the region. On Tuesday, it announced that travel to and from the village would be prohibited with limited exceptions: police and emergency first responders, state child welfare case workers and critical infrastructure technicians. The city says it’s also making allowances for people to travel for medical reasons.

Alaska Seaplanes President Kent Craford indicated in an email to CoastAlaska he’d work with the community to comply with the local rules restricting air travel.

“If you read the guidelines, a lot of people fall under these categories, especially patient medical travel which is a significant portion of our traffic in and out of Kake,” he wrote.

Yet it’s unclear whether authorities in Kake can enforce a travel ban. In May, Gov. Mike Dunleavy revised a health mandate that says communities connected by the Alaska Marine Highway System cannot impose their own travel restrictions.

The Alaska ferry LeConte is scheduled to sail to Kake on Thursday. City officials in Kake did not respond to questions seeking clarification over the local travel order. Officials with the state Department of Transportation didn’t immediately comment on upcoming ferry travel to Kake.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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