Climate Change | Energy & Mining | Federal Government | PoliticsObama’s last budget proposal features Denali cover, big-ticket Alaska itemsFebruary 10, 2016 by Liz Ruskin, APRN Share:President Barack Obama delivered his last budget proposal to Congress on Tuesday morning. It has a picture of Denali on the cover and several big-ticket Alaska items in its pages.Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor said the budget includes a proposed 10-year, $2 billion coastal climate resilience program to help states and communities adapt to climate change.“Part of this funding is set aside to address the needs that the president saw firsthand when he visited coastal communities in Alaska that are seeing their homelands eroding into the ocean at a rapid pace,” he said in a phone call with reporters.Alaska’s share of the climate fund would be $400 million over a decade.The budget also includes $150 million toward a new $1 billion icebreaker. The White House said the money would complete all planning and design work so ship construction could begin in 2020.Obama also wants to boost Denali Commission funding to $19 million and, said U.S. Geological Survey boss Suzette Kimball, improve Alaska data collection to create better maps.“It is particularly critical for Alaska, as many of the existing Alaska topographic maps are as much as 50 years old,” she said.The budget aims to lower the nation’s carbon emissions, in part by squeezing the oil industry. To fund a greener transportation system, the president is proposing a new per-barrel oil tax of $10.25. (That’s 25 cents higher than what administration officials said it would be last week.) Alaska’s oil industry and congressional delegation call that a terrible idea. The budget would also eliminate tax breaks that save the oil and gas industry more than $2 billion a year.Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the oil and gas industry “enjoys many, many tax credits” and has an unfair advantage over alternatives.“It is not level playing field across the energy landscape, and this budget attempts to make it at least a little more level,” Jewell said.A president’s budget is only a proposal, but it usually influences how Congress writes spending bills. This year, congressional leaders are harshly critical.Alaska’s delegation to Congress said they like the icebreaker money, but dislike the oil tax, among other items. In a written statement, Congressman Don Young called the budget frustrating because it identifies problems of great concern to many Alaskans but fails to provide a “genuine path” to solve them. Share this story:
Economy | Energy & Mining | State GovernmentThird major ratings agency downgrades Alaska creditJune 14, 2016 by Rachel Waldholz, Alaska’s Energy Desk Share:Credit ratings agencies have cited Alaska’s $3.8 billion budget deficit and ongoing legislative gridlock in downgrading the state’s credit. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)The third major credit ratings agency has weighed in on Alaska’s fiscal health.New York-based Fitch Ratings announced Tuesday morning that it is lowering the state’s long term credit rating from AAA — its highest rating — to AA+, citing the state’s massive budget gap.It follows downgrades earlier this year from the other two major ratings agencies, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service.The credit downgrades will make it more expensive for the state to borrow money in the future.All three agencies have said they expect Alaska’s rating to slip lower if oil prices remain low and the state continues to rely solely on savings to cover the deficit.Share this story:
The phones were ringing this week at U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Washington office, with calls about Trump’s cabinet nominees and also the Affordable Care Act.Because of the Affordable Care Act, some 17,000 Alaskans now get their insurance through expanded Medicaid, Murkowski said, and 18,000 buy policies on the individual market, most of them subsidized.“It’s a small number, but it’s a number that we need, to make sure that we’re listening to, that we’re responding to,” Murkowski said.The specifics of that response aren’t yet clear.She didn’t directly say, for instance, whether she’s committed to keeping the expansion of Medicaid.“It is absolutely a key part to this discussion,” Murkowski said.Like the rest of the Alaska delegation, she wants to keep parts of the ACA, such as the coverage for pre-existing conditions.She wants to dump the mandate that everybody get insurance.Murkowski acknowledges that risks an imbalance, where only high-cost patients would buy coverage.“We’re going to have to figure out where those pay-fors are, and how you can ensure that you get enough healthy younger people to participate,” she said.How do you do that?“Well, you make your healthcare more affordable in the first place,” Murkowski said.One idea Murkowski has is to require price transparency, so patients can comparison-shop for knee surgery like they can for shoes or tires.She said each state will need different solutions.“You ask the natural and easy question: ‘Well, what is the plan?’” Murkowski told reporters. “I think if we get hung up on one plan …”Murkowski moved from there to naming some of the topics under discussion, like expanding health savings accounts.“What’s the plan?!?!” is actually the name of a campaign launched by University of Alaska Anchorage students. Political science major Mark Simon said he’s alarmed that Congress is already taking steps toward repeal.“We would like to know what the plan is to replace the Affordable Care Act, and ensure that there isn’t going to be a massive gap in coverage,” Simon said.U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said he doesn’t think Congress will immediately change or drop the subsidies that help most people who buy insurance on the exchanges.As to whether the ultimate plan is to eliminate the subsidies…“We’re not looking to pull the rug out from people who have relied on this law, even though the law is not working,” Sullivan said.Sullivan said Congress has to make major changes, and soon.Sullivan points out that only one insurance company is now serving Alaska on the exchange and the cost of plans has shot up.“To do nothing right now, to do nothing, is irresponsible,” Sullivan said.The House is expected to vote Friday on the budget measure that starts the repeal.It instructs Senate and House committees to come up with repeal bills by Jan. 27.Earlier this week, Murkowski backed an amendment to extend the deadline until March.The sponsors dropped that amendment, but Murkowski said she’s been assured the timeline isn’t set in stone.Share this story: Federal Government | Nation & World | Politics‘What’s the plan?’ Alaska Senators say ACA replacement in the worksJanuary 13, 2017 by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media Share:Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan say a replacement for the Affordable Care Act is in the works, after the U.S. Senate took the initial step toward repealing the measure early morning Thursday, Jan. 12. They are photographed here together at the 2015 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to “repeal Obamacare and replace it with something great.”Early Thursday morning the U.S. Senate took an initial step toward repeal. As for the replacement, Alaska’s two senators describe something still in the formative stages. Audio Playerhttp://media.aprn.org/2017/ann-20170112-02.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.
Federal Government | Health | Interior | Southeast | State GovernmentSenate president seeks work or volunteer requirement for Medicaid recipientsFebruary 21, 2018 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media Share:Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, speaks at a Senate Majority press availability in February 2017. Kelly has proposed a bill that would require Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly has introduced a bill that would require people who receive Medicaid to work, engage in subsistence activities or volunteer. But the legislation faces obstacles in the House, and is raising concern from those who provide health care to low-income Alaskans.Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, introduced Senate Bill 193 on Monday. He said it would help the people who apply for Medicaid.“We think it’s beneficial to the people who are receiving this to be able to work or volunteer and just be part of the overall community that produces in Alaska,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a valuable thing for someone to work, if they’re receiving something.”The bill would affect most adults who aren’t senior citizens. But there are exemptions for people with disabilities, parents or caretakers of children up to age 6 or who have disabilities, or other relatives who require 24-hour care. Pregnant women also are exempt.The people who are required to work could fulfill the requirement with at least 20 hours of actively searching for work or engaging in an educational program or training intended to lead to work.If passed, the bill would require the state to seek a waiver from federal Medicaid rules to allow the work requirement. The federal government recently approved a similar waiver for Kentucky and Indiana and eight other states are seeking work requirement waivers. A lawsuit has been filed seeking to block the Kentucky work program.Leading members of the House majority caucus aren’t in favor of the bill.Slightly more than one in four Alaskans — or 185,000 out of 737,000 — received Medicaid last year. That’s slightly above the national average. And the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 73 percent of Alaska’s Medicaid households have at least one full- or part-time worker.Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III questioned if hiring state workers to check whether people are complying with work requirements would be worthwhile.“I think we would see quite a bit (of) diminished returns if we actually have to pay general fund money to go out and find out that people are already trying to do the best that they can within their circumstances,” he said.Kelly said he expects the existing state bureaucracy would be able to handle the workload from the bill.The bill also has raised concerns among the people who operate the community health centers that provide health care to lower-income residents.Melody West is the executive director for Sunshine Community Health Center. While she hasn’t seen the bill’s details, she’s concerned about the concept.“My initial reaction would be that it’s creating a barrier to care,” she said. “While we’re in Talkeetna and Willow, we actually service 12,000 square miles with our health center and we have over 6,000 patients. And to just specifically, you know, say: ‘You have to work. You have to be in some kind of job program or volunteer’ — a lot of people don’t have that ability to do that.”The bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Social Services Committee.Share this story:
Economy | Interior | Politics | Southcentral | State GovernmentHouse votes to restore PFDs to full $2,700March 26, 2018 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media Share:This map shows how House members by district voted on a budget amendment to restore full permanent fund dividends on Monday. Green districts are yes votes, red are no votes. (Map by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)The Alaska House voted 21 to 19 Monday to restore the full amount for Alaska Permanent Fund dividends this year. PFDs would be roughly $2,700.The vote would add $892 million to the proposed state budget. This would decrease state savings, since there is no new revenue to offset the increase.Minority-caucus Republicans provided most of the support for restoring the dividends to the full amount set under a legal formula used until two years ago. It would be the largest amount in state history, without accounting for inflation.The board shows the House vote to amend the budget to restore permanent fund dividends on Monday. The vote was 21-19. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)Eagle River Republican Rep. Dan Saddler said the PFD shouldn’t be cut until the budget for state government services is smaller. He supported cutting a study of vitamin D deficiency funded in the budget.“The budget is rising, despite the efforts of me and my caucus to hold down, to reduce the size of government, and even to just to slow the rate of increase, have been unsuccessful time after time after time,” he said. “If we have a half-million dollars to spend on vitamin D, I have a very difficult time standing up and supporting a reduced dividend.”The mostly Democratic House majority was nearly evenly divided. Ten voted for the funding, while 12 voted against it.Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr said the PFD shouldn’t be cut until the Legislature passes a plan that closes the long-term gap between how much the state spends and how much it brings in. The majority has proposed higher oil and gas taxes or a tax on income as part of a comprehensive plan.“It shouldn’t lie on the shoulders of our children, our seniors, our veterans and those on fixed incomes and … lower-income Alaskans to solve the budget crisis,” she said. “Everybody needs to give in a way that’s meaningful, and those are the Alaskans who have given the most so far.”Some opponents also say PFD cuts hurt lower income residents. But they say that a larger PFD this year threatens future PFDs by chipping away at permanent fund earnings, as well as funding for state services.Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool said the state can’t afford the full amount.“I know there are some people that make counterarguments that, ‘Since we didn’t get a more distributed revenue package that we should ditch this,’” he said of the reduction. “But I’m not one of those people. I think this is really important, to stick with it, stick with our plan and forge ahead.”And some opponents, like Anchorage Rep. Chris Birch, argued that the PFD spending mirrors larger patterns in state spending. He was one of seven minority-caucus Republicans to vote no.“I think it’s spending money we don’t have,” he said. “We’ve got a reputation collectively of doing that. And I think we can’t afford it. I think we need to take a very hard look at this budget effort.”Gov. Bill Walker vetoed roughly half of the PFD money in 2016. Last year, the Legislature more than halved the dividend.The House adjourned Monday after taking the vote. It’s not clear how the House will fund the PFD. And it’s not clear what will happen to the PFD in the Senate. Last year, the House proposed $1,250 dividends and the Senate proposed $1,000 dividends. They compromised on an $1,100 amount.Share this story:
Alaska’s Energy Desk | Politics | State GovernmentAlaska elections officials prepare to count votes that could decide three legislative racesAugust 27, 2018 by Nat Herz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage Share:Anchorage GOP Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux’s is one of three legislative primaries that could be decided by Tuesday’s count of absentee votes. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)State elections workers are preparing to count hundreds of absentee ballots that are likely to decide the winners of three razor-thin legislative races.The state will conduct an initial count on Tuesday. A final batch of ballots will be counted Friday.The counts will decide the political futures of two powerful Republican incumbents: Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche of Soldotna and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage.Both trail their primary challengers by fewer than 10 votes after the initial round of counting last week.There are about 300 absentee and other ballots still to be counted in LeDoux’s race.There are about 800 more uncounted votes in Micciche’s Kenai Peninsula Senate district.And ballots are still coming in — absentee ballots can arrive up to 10 days after an election takes place.Once the counting is done, a losing candidate or group of voters can ask for a state-paid recount in any race decided by fewer than 20 votes, or half a percent.A third race that could end up that close is the one for the Kenai Peninsula House seat now held by Republican Mike Chenault.Wayne Ogle, president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, leads by three votes. His opponent is Ben Carpenter, a self-described outsider candidate who farms peonies.Share this story:
A News | Alaska Native Arts & Culture | Arts & Culture | Community | Education | Family | Juneau‘Molly of Denali’ creators help Juneau kids find their own voicesAugust 16, 2019 by Zoe Grueskin, KTOO Share:Nanibaa’ Frommherz (left) and Izzy Kizer participated in a voice acting workshop led by creators of “Molly of Denali,” organized by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, on Aug. 9, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)The new animated children’s TV show, “Molly of Denali,” is the first national children’s show to feature an Alaska Native lead.Some of the show’s creators came to Juneau this month. As part of their visit, they put on a vocal acting workshop to help local kids find their own voices.Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2019/08/16MollyVoices-USE.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Joel Price said he didn’t really know what his father had signed him up for.“Um, just meeting some fancy people,” Price said.Those fancy people included the creative producer of “Molly of Denali,” Princess Daazhraii Johnson, and the voice of Molly herself: Sovereign Bill.Tlingit and Muckleshoot actress Sovereign Bill poses at a voice-over workshop at KTOO Public Media before the Juneau premiere of the PBS KIDS show “Molly of Denali” Saturday, August 10 at 9:30 a.m. at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo by Sheli DeLaney/KTOO)For the record, Price said they weren’t actually very fancy at all, just really nice.Price was one of 13 kids in the workshop on self-expression and voice acting. It was held the day before a community screening of the show in Juneau. Both events were organized by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. KTOO provided the space for the workshop.Johnson kicked things off with some energizing warm-ups, reaching for the stars on tippy toes, shaking everything out.When everyone was good and stretched, Johnson and Bill talked about their work and then walked through the basics of vocal acting. The kids got to put it into practice right away, recording some public service announcements, which will air on KTOO.That was Izzy Kizer’s favorite part of the afternoon.“I thought I would stutter, or lisp, or mumble or something like that,” Kiser said. “And I actually surprised myself that I didn’t do any of that in the entire recording. I thought I did kind of good.”Twelve-year-old Kizer is happy to see “Molly of Denali” on the air. The show takes place in a fictional village in Interior Alaska. Molly and many of the characters are Athabaskan. Kizer hopes the show will broaden perspectives.“Not many people really acknowledge our culture,” she said. “They think we live in, like, igloos with polar bears and penguins, but really we don’t.”Kizer, who is Tlingit, has some ideas of her own for a kids show set in Southeast Alaska. The main character would be a grizzly bear, Kizer’s favorite, and it would feature other regional animals, like seals and wolves.“They would solve problems, like, act like people in real life,” she explained, “and they would talk and stuff, and it would be cool.”Ideas like that are exactly what the workshop’s organizers hoped to hear. Emily Edenshaw is director of business and economic development at Tlingit & Haida, and she helped put together the event.“There were 13 youth today. If one of them gets the tiniest bit of hope that, ‘Maybe I can do this,’ or, ‘I want to do this’ — this is why I do the work that I do,” Edenshaw said.Edenshaw, who is Yup’ik and Iñupiaq, said she’s been watching “Molly of Denali” at home with her kids. It’s a powerful experience, she said, watching as a family.“Being a 35-year-old woman, and I’m having the same experience as my 9-month-old daughter and my 13-year-old,” she said. “My kids are never going to grow up in a world where they’re not going to be able to see themselves represented.”After the workshop, Johnson offered some short and sweet advice for any kids who want to get involved in the arts: Explore, have fun and be curious.It’s the kind of thing “Molly of Denali” might say.Meet Sovereign Bill, the voice behind ‘Molly of Denali’Share this story:
Coronavirus | Economy | Health | Politics | State GovernmentAs Alaska prepares to spend millions on coronavirus response, years of cuts have starved the public health systemMarch 11, 2020 by James Brooks and Morgan Krakow, Anchorage Daily News Share:A hsopital bed at the Sitka Community Hospital. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)In December, budget documents for Alaska’s public health nursing program carried a warning: Years of budget cuts have starved the state’s public health wing of resources and staff.“The reduced workforce decreases capacity to provide timely and effective response to emerging outbreaks and threats while maintaining other core services,” the program warned.This week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed $13 million in new spending to monitor and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.But state officials and legislators familiar with the state’s public health system say that funding injection cannot erase years of budget cuts.In 2014, when state spending reached its modern peak, Alaska was spending $28 million per year from the state treasury on public health nursing and $7.6 million on epidemiology. Six years later, those figures have dropped to $22 million and $2 million, respectively.That 2014 budget called for 110 public health nurses statewide, plus aides and support staff. The budget now calls for 90 nurses, but the state has been unable to fill all of those positions. Budget cuts mean the state’s pay and benefits for public health nurses now lag behind similar positions in other states. The state’s personnel directory lists 70 public health nurses on staff.Those cuts, some legislators say, have left Alaska vulnerable to a threat exactly like the one it faces now.“Definitely we’re in a worse spot right now. The cuts that have gone on have been detrimental to the retention of those people who are so needed at this point,” said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin.In addition to serving on the Senate Finance Committee, Olson is a doctor.In December, budget documents for Alaska’s public health nursing program carried a warning: Years of budget cuts have starved the state’s public health wing of resources and staff.“The reduced workforce decreases capacity to provide timely and effective response to emerging outbreaks and threats while maintaining other core services,” the program warned.This week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed $13 million in new spending to monitor and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.But state officials and legislators familiar with the state’s public health system say that funding injection cannot erase years of budget cuts.In 2014, when state spending reached its modern peak, Alaska was spending $28 million per year from the state treasury on public health nursing and $7.6 million on epidemiology. Six years later, those figures have dropped to $22 million and $2 million, respectively.That 2014 budget called for 110 public health nurses statewide, plus aides and support staff. The budget now calls for 90 nurses, but the state has been unable to fill all of those positions. Budget cuts mean the state’s pay and benefits for public health nurses now lag behind similar positions in other states. The state’s personnel directory lists 70 public health nurses on staff.Those cuts, some legislators say, have left Alaska vulnerable to a threat exactly like the one it faces now.“Definitely we’re in a worse spot right now. The cuts that have gone on have been detrimental to the retention of those people who are so needed at this point,” said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin.“If we do have a coronavirus emergency, we’re ill-prepared for it,” he said.In a Monday news conference, Dunleavy said Alaska is prepared. State officials assisted in the evacuation of Americans from the Chinese city of Wuhan in January, and the governor said the state has been planning since then.No cases of coronavirus have been found in Alaska, but Dunleavy is asking the Alaska Legislature for $13 million — $4 million in state funding and permission to accept $9 million in federal money.“We really do feel like we’re maxing out on Department of Health and Social Services resources … and we need help,” said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.That money would pay for 10 temporary workers: five public health nurses, three nurse epidemiologists, one microbiologist and one emergency manager.Zink said the worry is that the state’s health care system might not have enough resources to cope with a flood of additional patients on top of ordinary needs.“We don’t have systems set up to deal with that increase,” she said.Half of the governor’s request involves the state’s public health nursing system. In small communities across Alaska, public health nurses are frontline health care workers. The new additions may be based in hub cities, but they would be responsible for a swath of rural Alaska, Zink said.“I think of public health nurses as the worker bees keeping things running,” Zink said.Compounding the funding problem, state reports indicate budget cuts have made those nurses less efficient.“Recruitment difficulties, including delays in recruitment of administrative staff, has required nurses to take on administrative duties,” a 2018 report said.With nurses filling out paperwork instead of treating patients, “the Section of Public Health Nursing lost over 8,000 hours of reimbursable professional nursing time,” the report said.“Budget cuts have consequences,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.Von Imhof also serves as chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of the state’s health budget. She said she and other lawmakers will be watching to see if the governor’s request is enough.“It’s hard to say if this is the tip of the iceberg or this is sufficient,” she said.This story was originally published by the Anchorage Daily News and is republished here with permission.Share this story:
YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges confirmed Tuluk’s explanation for what happened in Chevak.“The people who get infected, especially this time of year, may think that they just have a cold. They may not think anything of it,” Hodges said. “They may feel safe because there haven’t been any confirmed cases in their village. And they may not take the precautions that we know work, such as wearing a face mask and keeping our social circles small, which in some of our villages has allowed the virus to spread undetected.”In this scenario, Hodges said, someone eventually gets tested and YKHC travels to the village to conduct community-wide testing, which reveals how far the virus has spread.YKHC vice president of communications Tiffany Zulkosky said that COVID-19 testing was readily available at Chevak’s health clinic for anyone that wanted one even before the latest outbreak.Tuluk said that people are taking precautions seriously now, but it wasn’t always the case. Even after Chevak declared a lockdown on Oct. 12 after the first few cases in the village, Tuluk said that people were still visiting others.“There were still people out there going to other houses or allowing their kids to go visit their grandparents,” said Tuluk. “A lot of people at that time were not following instructions, so that contributed to probably spread a little more faster.”Tuluk said that the village instituted a stricter lockdown a few days ago. At this point, even residents of Chevak who traveled outside of the village are not being allowed back in.“We’re telling them to hold off until we get over this lockdown,” Tuluk said.The village announced the stricter phase of the lockdown on radio and VHF. Now, Tuluk says, almost everyone is following the instructions to stay home.“From the first one we did, it’s a lot better,” Tuluk said.Chevak resident Zackar Levi is staying positive about the lockdown.“It’s a good chance to catch up with the family all the time, staying in the house all the time,” Levi said.Levi’s little brother is one of the people in Chevak who have tested positive for COVID-19. He said that his brother is asymptomatic.“We’ve tried a lot not to let it bother him too much. Usually, he gets easily scared,” Levi said.To keep his brother’s mind off the virus, Levi said that he’s downloading fourth-grade homework from various websites and helping his little brother work through it.Educating has become even more difficult under the latest lockdown. Chevak’s superintendent, Dave Lougee, said that teachers can’t deliver paperwork packets, so they’re putting lessons and math problems on their classroom Facebook pages.“I don’t think we’re reaching them all, but we’re trying to get as many as we can,” Lougee said.Lougee also said that the school district recently received equipment from GCI to set up an intranet so that students can exchange files with teachers without using any internet data. But he doesn’t know how the district can set it up during the lockdown.As for play, kids are being told to do that from home as well. Earl Atchak said that his kids are sleeping more and talking on the phone more.“They’re being on the phone in the evenings talking, like having a seven-way call or however way they’re doing it right now, these younger kids,” Atchak said. “That’s how they’re keeping communication and keeping sane.”Despite the challenges of isolation, Mayor Tuluk said that people must follow the instructions of the lockdown and stay home if the village is to combat COVID-19.“The risk of spreading that virus will be to a minimum, or even can be stopped when everybody cooperates,” Tuluk said. “For those people that may not be caring about the whole situation, I ask them to look at their own family or their parents that may be Elders. And that they hopefully realize what they’re doing is putting out a risk to their family members.”On Oct. 23, YKHC announced that the state plans to send a team to Chevak to help Tuluk and other village leaders with emergency planning and quarantine response. Over 70% of the more than 1,000 residents living in Chevak have been tested. Hodges said that YKHC is planning to send a team next week to perform more testing.This story has been updated with new information about the number of COVID-19 cases in Chevak after it was released by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. Share this story: Coronavirus | WesternWhy is there a sudden burst of COVID-19 cases in Chevak?October 23, 2020 by Greg Kim, KYUK – Bethel Share:Chevak, Alaska (Photo by Mike McIntyre via KYUK)In the past week, the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation has announced over 180 new cases of COVID-19 in Chevak, seemingly out of nowhere. In a village of just over a thousand residents, almost 20% of the population has now been infected with the coronavirus.Mayor Richard Tuluk suggested that the virus had been undetected in Chevak for a long time prior to the explosion of cases over the last week.“Some of those first tests we did, we found out that it was not travel-related, that it had been here quite a while for quite some time,” Tuluk said.
Arts & Culture | Coronavirus | Health | Mental Health | SpiritWe asked Dr. Anne Zink and other Alaskans what’s bringing inspiration this winter. Here’s what they said.January 6, 2021 by Lex Treinen, Alaska Public Media Share:Dr. Anne Zink holds a self portrait drawn by her daughter in fourth grade (Screenshot via Zoom)It’s the darkest part of winter in a very dark year marked with loss, anxiety, economic worries, political upheaval and isolation. We’ve been asking Alaskans where they find inspiration, hope and comfort on their bleakest days. Many of them said they turned to art — music, literature, film and spiritual texts — to help get through it.Here are their answers.Dr. Anne Zink – Chief Medical Officer of AlaskaHer Choice: Her daughter’s fourth grade self-portraitAlaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink is known for her expansive grasp and no-nonsense delivery of facts about the coronavirus as she guided Alaska’s pandemic response.But she’s also a visual arts disciple. She studied fine art as an undergraduate, even designing a course on the chemistry of printmaking. To her, art and science have always gone hand-in-hand.“They’ve always been just the yin and yang of the same thing. I couldn’t have one without the other,” she said.The piece she chose, a painting done by her daughter in fourth grade showing a colorful “Picasso-esque” face, hangs right by her home office.Listen to Part 1 of this series, featuring Dr. Zink and Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson:Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2021/01/04Art-2020.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.“The eyes are different. The eyebrows are different. The colors are different, depending on which side of the face you look at, and I’ve always valued that: Seeing a challenge from multiple perspectives, not just seeing it from one perspective,” she said.The left eye in the painting looks inward at an impossible angle toward the center of the face, while the right eye gazes straight ahead. Zink compares it to her work navigating complex challenges during the pandemic, which take both knowledge of scientific data and an understanding of social dynamics for issues such as a statewide mask mandate.For all the value modern science has, including a vaccine, medicine is about a lot more than the black-and-white equation of having a disease and finding the cure, she said.“Medicine is not that dichotomous. It is the art of medicine. And it is nuanced. And it is subtle,” she said.Julie Decker – Director of Anchorage MuseumHer choice: Documentary film “Spaceship Earth”Anchorage Museum Director Julie Decker said her salve for 2020 was a documentary film that came out in May.“Spaceship Earth” follows an experiment performed on Earth in the early 1990s to test the feasibility of colonizing another planet. Eight people lock themselves inside a closed environment called Biosphere 2 for two years. To survive, they learn to garden vegetables and bake bread. Decker said that there are obvious parallels to the quarantining many Alaskans experienced in 2020. Unsurprisingly, things get tense among Spaceship Earth’s residents after a few months.“What happens when people live in isolation with each other, or from each other?” she said. “I think it’s a fascinating psychological experiment.”But Decker said the Biosphere 2 complex resonated with her beyond the obvious COVID quarantine parallels. The long days at home during the pandemic got her thinking more and more about another existential crisis: global warming. She said the film’s ambitious project got her to think big, even while stuck in a house that felt small.“Through the pandemic, I felt that hunger for vision, for big thinking. We are living through a moment of deep personal, professional, global change,” she said. “Where are we going to let it take us?”There was one last piece of the film that stood out to her: A cameo appearance by former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. A young Bannon, fresh out of a Wall Street job, appears in the film to salvage the Biosphere 2 project after the completion of the two-year experiment, touting the virtues of sustainable ecological living.“It’s another parallel, in a way, to our moment, because politics has dominated this year as well,” she said. “How strange our world is.”Celeste Hodge Growden – President of Alaska Black CaucusHer choice: The Bible’s Romans 8:28.Alaska Black Caucus President Celeste Hodge Growden chose an older work of art — much older. It was a verse written two thousand years ago, Romans 8:28: “In Him know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”Pastor Undra Parker at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in March 2020. Celeste Hodge Growden said she first heard the verse from Romans 8:28 from Parker at her longtime church. (Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church)Growden’s organization, the Alaska Black Caucus, was reorganized at the end of 2019. When George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis in May 2020, sparking worldwide protests against racism, the verse reminded her that her work was part of a larger plan.“Without this verse, nothing makes sense. And you know, you crumble, you get offended, you get angry, you don’t understand things,” she said.Listen to Part 2 of this series, featuring Celeste Hodge Growden, Samuel Johns, and Julie Decker:Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2021/01/28COVIDArt.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Growden said while 2020 has helped awaken many to systemic racism in the U.S., it hasn’t been an easy year for her. She grieved the loss of her mother, who died late in 2019. And she’s received threats and hate mail because of her positions on issues such as police body cameras. Remembering Romans 8:28’s words about following her purpose has kept her centered.“It’s nothing that you planned,” she said. “But it’s everything that God planned.”Samuel Johns – Activist, social worker, artistHis choice: Video “Ghengis Khan – Extra Credit“Activist, social worker and musician Samuel Johns also found direction for his Indigenous healing work from world history. But his inspiration came from an unorthodox source: a cartoon history of Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan.“If anyone said, ‘Man, one day, you’re gonna be in quarantine and you’re gonna fall in love with the Mongol Empire,’ I’d be like, ‘That sounds like the most wacky shit I ever heard,” Johns said.Alaska Native organizer and activist Samuel Johns protests during a speech by Gov. Mike Dunleavy at the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives Conference at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)The video is from a channel called Extra Credit that he started watching to help his kids with history lessons. He acknowledged that while Genghis Khan has often been typecast as a heartless murderer, when he learned more about his story, Johns started to see admirable parts of how the Mongol empire ruled.“They fought wars, and they defeated armies, but they let the people keep the language and eat. They kept their scholars, they kept their teachers, and they made sure that their books were protected,” he said.Khan also instituted policies to keep everyone fed and made sure portions of all war booty were reserved for widows and children.Those lessons struck deep for Johns as he pondered the legacy of colonialism during this summer of racial reckoning.“I’ve grown up in a disproportionate place, where there was a lot of alcoholism, there was a lot of domestic abuse, there was a lot of things that I could not save people from,” he said.Hearing the story of one of the world history’s most powerful rulers helped him imagine a world where he had a bit more control over his life, in a world not governed by white colonizers.“The fact that Genghis Khan was able to create his own laws for his own people — that’s what I want for my people,” he said.Austin Quinn-Davidson – Acting Anchorage MayorHer choice: Brandi Carlile live performancesAnchorage’s Acting Mayor Austin Quinn Davidson said the music of Brandi Carlile was an escape from the realities of the pandemic.Anchorage Assembly Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson in her Turnagain neighborhood on Oct. 22. Quinn-Davidson became the interim mayor of Anchorage, following Mayor Berkowitz’s resignation on Oct. 23. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)Quinn-Davidson said she’s fallen back on the music of singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile at several points since unexpectedly taking the helm of Alaska’s largest city. Her wife bought her tickets to a virtual concert earlier this year.“Halfway through, I found myself kind of lost in the moment, and just singing along and thinking about all these memories I had about, you know, being at a music festival, and the open air, and it being warm,” she said.Quinn-Davidson and Carlile both come from small rural areas, are roughly the same age, and both married to women. Feeling connected to someone through concerts at home was powerful through the loneliness of work — or when isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.“She brings such honesty and authenticity to her music, and she tells the story of hard parts of life,” Quinn-Davidson said.Those messages hit home this year. The lyrics to 2018 song “Most of All” — “But most of all/He taught me to forgive/How to keep a cool head/How to love the one you’re with” — reminded her of lessons she’s learned.“Music is a tool to remember that ultimately, what it’s about is kindness, and love, and treating people with respect,” Quinn-Davidson said.And when she finds herself the target of political vitriol, listening to Carlile reminds her we all share a lot more of the human experience than we sometimes remember. And it reminds her things will pass.“In the context of 2020, and the pandemic, and all of these challenges — those are cyclical, too. We will get out of this … eventually,” she said.If you’d like to share something that’s helped you get through the pandemic and why — or someone you’d like to hear from in our series — send an email to [email protected] this story: