North

'We all got a little bit lackadaisical,' says mayor of Haines, Alaska after 1st reported case of COVID-19

In the small, isolated town of Haines, Alaska, longtime resident Heather Lende says there was a sense that everything was finally going back to normal.

A male resident of Haines, Alsaka remains in quarantine after being diagnosed with coronavirus

Two weeks after relaxing its COVID-19 restrictions, the mayor of Haines, Alaska says the borough and its residents need to be more diligent. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

In the small, isolated town of Haines, Alaska, longtime resident Heather Lende says there was a sense that everything was finally going back to normal.

After all, there hadn't been a single case of COVID-19 confirmed in the municipality of fewer than 2,000 people, whose only road connecting the community to the rest of Alaska travels through B.C. and Yukon.

Businesses had reopened and groups could be seen picnicking in parks or playing a game of baseball under the summer sun.

Until June 8, when Haines borough announced the first case of coronavirus.

"It kind of took my breath away," says Lende.

A male patient had contacted the local health centre the week prior after he began experiencing symptoms. He's now self-isolating at home and public health officials are busy tracing who he's been in contact with and how the virus was transferred to him. As well, the borough says the man hadn't travelled anywhere recently.

The only road connecting the oceanfront community of Haines to the rest of Alaska travels through both British Columbia and the Yukon. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

And its left the community in a state of unease, with many speculating about who it could be and who it might have been passed on to, says Lende.

"It does make you a little anxious," she says.

Lende admits that before the first case, the threat of the coronavirus spreading to the small community seemed to have passed.

"We were doing so well on a unified front against the virus, but I think, like everywhere, people were tired of it, people didn't want to be at home, the weather was getting better and it was time to get going [with our lives]," she says.

Janice Hill, the mayor of the borough of Haines, agrees that over the past two weeks the community as a whole seemed to relax with everything returning to business as usual.

"I think we all got a little bit lackadaisical in paying attention to some detail," she says.

After a meeting Tuesday evening in response to the diagnosis, the Haines borough assembly and Mayor Hill decided the municipality needed to become more diligent in following the recommendations of public health officials.

Mayor Hill says that includes:

  • Wearing masks when possible
  • Practicing social distancing of six feet or more
  • Limiting meetings to groups of 10 or less
  • Keeping your circle small and within your family unit
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Limiting non-essential travel outside of the community
The borough of Haines, Alaska has decided that no cruise ships will be allowed to dock in the municipality to limit the spread of COVID-19. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Hill says the assembly decided to take the recommendations of the state one step further when it comes to cruise lines docking in Haines — a popular tourist destination.

Instead of postponing the cruise season, the assembly has decided that no cruise ships, regardless of size, will be permitted to stop in Haines until further notice.

As for the border separating Haines, Alaska and British Columbia, it was announced Tuesday that all Canada-U.S. borders are expected to remain closed beyond June 21.

With files from Paul Tukker and Mike Rudyk

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