This page reflects questions that Alaska’s 165 cities and boroughs have asked in relation to the State response to COVID-19, and expectations or roles of local governments. AML has requested responses by State of Alaska officials to assist local governments during this crisis. We will update this page to reflect those answers as they come in. For now, AML staff have attempted to provide some draft answers based on our understanding. These should not be considered legal advice and should be confirmed with your Local Government Specialist, municipal attorney, human resource professional (JIA members can contact their hotline), or appropriate State official.
Q: If a person has symptoms of possible COVID-19 in a small, remote area, who will transport them for medical care?
AML: Individuals in communities that have symptoms of possible COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19, but remain able to shelter at home (mild no or mild symptoms) should self-quarantine at home in their community. Only patients requiring hospitalization will be transported.
Patients that require hospitalization should be transported to a hospital under guidance of a physician and public health nursing, using their community’s normal procedures, process, and means for medical transport.
When the normal means of transport from a community is overwhelmed or unavailable, if the patient requiring hospitalization is critical, they will contact the Alaska State Troopers who will work with the Rescue Coordination Center to transport the patient.
Q: If a resident in our community contracts or is symptomatic of Coronavirus, what is the procedure for notifying authorities? How will travel from rural communities occur? How can we isolate or quarantine them?
AML: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or review additional contacts at www.coronavirus.alaska.gov. The State has indicated they have contingency plans in place for rural travel. Individuals who are symptomatic should stay in a location that is clean and can be cleaned, where they avoid physical contact with other people, have access to necessary food and medicine as necessary, and can communicate with first responders in that community.
Q: What authority does a local government, as an employer, have to mandate self-quarantine for employees that have traveled out of state or from communities with confirmed cases?
AML: To some extent, local governments have this ability. Home rule governments may be able to implement this on their own, consistent with State mandate. All others may only be able to recommend based on that same State guidance.
Q: How do we document – could there be funds available – for local governments that reduce hours of operation or close public facilities to cover expenses or employee wages during mandated closures and social distancing?
AML: We do not believe that FEMA funds would currently provide for this, but the Governor has indicated an intent to assist local governments during this time. This may include support for lost revenue, which may help with employee expenses. There are federal resources now available because of the Families First Act. We highly recommend documenting all expenses.
Q: Will there be disaster funds available to keep utilities functioning as we avoid disconnecting during the crisis, if non-payment occurs?
AML: This may be addressed through the Governor’s Economic Stabilization package, or through the intent to reimburse local governments for lost revenues during this time. We highly recommend that you document all expenses by setting up a separate code in your accounting system in addition to creating a separate employee leave code for COVID-19 related leave.
Q: Can DCRA provide sample policies that local governments can enact for personnel actions?
AML: AML has developed this for use by local governments, though it is non-technical in nature.
Q: What are policies that local governments can enact to assist businesses and residents?
AML: AML has established an economic work group and is liaising with the Governor’s Economic Stabilization Task Force. Many local governments have formed their own teams that include local businesses, chambers of commerce, and other community partners, i.e. school superintendent. We recommend active communication with your business community, and a review of all potential tools, including tax or fee waivers or deferment, credits, or incentives.
DCCED: Set up a website with information about tools to help Alaskan Businesses deal with the effects of the COVID-19
Q: Should local governments enact an emergency declaration? What should that look like and what are the considerations involved?
AML: AML has included links to a number of declarations by varying size/class of municipality. A declaration allows greater flexibility for the local government to act during this time, including to allocate resources to new or emerging priorities. Included within this is the ability to conduct council/assembly business by teleconference, if your code does not currently provide for it.
Q: Is an emergency declaration necessary to receive FEMA or other federal funding?
AML: An emergency or disaster declaration may give you greater direct access to FEMA funding, though the State’s declaration may also provide this opportunity. Either way, the State will receive the bulk of FEMA and federal aid, and should develop processes for city and borough access to those funds. Remember to document all related expenses. A list of eligible expenses can be found here.
Q: What do we tell people who may be out of work, home with kids, and/or facing economic hardship? What messages or communications tools does the State of Alaska have in assist with public outreach?
AML: The Alaska Conference of Mayors released this public message, which may be helpful. In short, there is no easy answer, but aid will come. Federal, State and local resources are entirely dedicated to assisting during this time.
Q: What do we need to do to comply with the Open Meetings Act, or are there State actions to assist with social distancing as it applies?
AML: DCRA produced a helpful memo regarding the Open Meetings Act. AML has requested that the State issue an order waiving any OMA requirements for in-person meetings or public engagement. Both can be addressed through teleconference and procedures to allow for public participation and comment. State action removes the concern that 165 cities and boroughs currently have related to this.
DCRA: See this for Open Meetings Act guidance.
Other resources: IMCA
Q: What are some options for platforms to conduct a virtual meeting?
AML: While not endorsing any one platform, here are a few that others use.
Facebook Live, FreeConferenceCall, GoToMeeting, Streamyard, Zoom
Q: Will the State provide a teleconference system if a local government is unable to afford one?
AML: There are a number of good options for this, if you don’t currently have one in place. GCI teleconference is one; Zoom meetings are another. If you absolutely need help with this please contact AML to arrange a call.
Q: Is the State using the public media system to communicate to rural Alaska?
AML: The Governor has held numerous, daily press conferences that are shared on public media. The State also has its website available at www.coronavirus.alaska.gov. There may be additional ways in which the State could utilize the system to distribute health mandates and advisories.
Q: If the State directs a municipal first responder into a situation wherein they contract COVID-19, is the State liable for quarantine, leave and medical costs?
AML: Undetermined. At this point, evidence documenting contraction would be covered by worker’s compensation. Costs should be documented.
Q: Should those who have them close bingo or pull-tab operations? What can be done about this lost revenue?
AML: Yes. Limiting groups of 10 or more people is critical during this time, and consistent with State health mandates. Document lost revenue each month, compared to averages in prior years. There may be some potential for recouping this revenue via the State or Federal governments as aid packages are developed.
Q: What happens if lost revenue during the crisis forces the local government to close its doors and shut down all operations?
AML: Government is considered an essential operation and government services – mainly first responders and utilities – should be provided all resources necessary or available to remain open. Communicate with State officials immediately if there is any risk that government operations may cease; and include AML in all communications.
Q: Will our post office remain open?
AML: Yes, that is our understanding. Mail delivery would also be included in essential air travel.
Q: What protective gear or training is being offered to Village Police Officers and Village Public Safety Officers?
Q: What communication is being directed to those local governments who have community and regional jails, or holding cells?
Q: How will this affect PERS? What if we have to furlough or lay off PERS employees? What about hiring retirees who were part of PERS but can help with our response?
Q: How do we know or decide if we should shut down the City Office?
AML: Right now, the State recommends non-essential staff being allowed to work from home if possible, and all at-risk staff to self-quarantine. Again, government operations are considered essential. However, you may implement social distancing measures that include alternative schedules for employees, online requests, and teleconference capabilities for council or other meetings. Beyond that, we await guidance.
Q: If our offices close, this may impact electric services, as residents in some communities purchase pre-paid electric credit from the city office? Do we close, reduce hours, or set specific hours?
AML: Utilities are considered essential functions during this time, and every effort should be made to continue their operations.
Q: As a second-class city, what is our legal prerogative when it comes to travel in and out of the community? Do we have that authority?
AML: Unless you own the airport, you do not have the ability to restrict travel. Right now, the authority you have extends from the State’s health mandates and alerts, which allow you to strongly recommend restricted non-essential travel and self-quarantine for those who are traveling from out of state or communities with confirmed cases. Your tribal government may have some additional ability to restrict travel for tribal members or a tribally-owned airport. Either way, work with companies that deliver freight and passengers to ensure precautionary measures taken to keep the flow of essential goods and emergency services.
Q: Is there anything we cannot do as a second-class city?
AML: You do have general police powers, which you may be able to utilize on behalf of a State mandate or emergency declaration by the city. AML recommends avoiding any circumstance that denies an individual or entity life, liberty, or property, and that you coordinate all responses with the State DHSS EOC. Acting on behalf of and in coordinate with the State is your best action.
Q: How do we document all of our crisis preparation and response costs for FEMA or other potential funding? What is the procedure and how should that look?
AML: Procedures are still under development, but see this for more information. It includes reimbursable expenses that you should be documenting.
Q: If we don’t have an Emergency Operations Command/Center, do we need one?
AML: You don’t need one, necessarily, but you should identify a point of contact for the State, and coordinate within your community appropriate emergency procedures.
Q: Is the State communicating only with emergency management officials in communities where those are in place, or that have an established EOC? What about everyone else?
AML: We have heard from DHSS that they are in communication with local EOCs, but right now we don’t know exactly what that looks like or how far this extends. There are also daily PIO calls, for those who have a PIO.
Q: Where have tabletop planning exercises occurred and can the State share the plan for implementing these?
AML: Undetermined, awaiting response.
Q: Who does and does not have health powers? Should they be acquired? What do they mean?
AML: We think that only the Municipality of Anchorage and the North Slope Borough have health powers, but some municipalities also own hospitals. We’re trying to determine who does and does not. It is not necessary for these to be acquired; DHSS should provide all necessary action.
Q: All local governments have some level of general police powers; please describe how these may be applied during a public health crisis.
AML: Awaiting further clarification.
Q: Does the State have a contact list for all communities, and what structured communications are occurring?
AML: AML is sending almost daily communication to nearly 1,000 contacts in 165 cities and boroughs based on our annually updated Municipal Officials Directory. The State should have access to contact information through its Community Database Online.
Q: Can local governments require that residents or visitors be tested or mandate quarantine?
AML: We believe this power lies with the Governor and Commissioner of DHSS. Home rule governments may have some powers in this regard, under an emergency declaration.
Q: How are tests occurring in remote communities without healthcare facilities?
AML: They are not, as far as we know. Communicate to email@example.com if you identify symptomatic, high risk individuals that have come from out of state or communities with confirmed cases.
Q: What is the State doing to ensure that supply chains remain in place, not just from Seattle but between communities?
AML: Both the State and larger hub communities confirm that supply chains remain in place and that there are no shortages of goods coming into the state. However, panic buying and hoarding in larger communities has resulted in less available for remote delivery or rural shoppers.
Q: Should municipal leaders be concerned about having enough essentials like fuel in a community?
AML: No, not to our knowledge.
Q: What physical assets are needed if hospitals reach capacity? Should local governments be identifying suitable public facilities, where they exist?
AML: While some local governments may be able to do this, the vast majority will be coordinated through DHSS and DMVA. Work with State agencies as this is identified as a potential need.
Q: For federal funding that is coming to the State, what should local governments expect in terms of process? How will availability be communicated? How can requests occur?
AML: This is still to be determined. Congress has acted quickly and we’re expecting a stimulus package to be finalized this week. Details to come, and plenty of work to coordinate with State of Alaska.
Q: What State funding is in place for local governments that must take direct action?
AML: The Legislature did approve some additional funding within the Mental Health and Supplemental Budgets for use in response to COVID-19. It is undetermined at this time how or whether it will be shared with local governments who are mobilizing a response.
Q: Local governments will be most impacted by drops in tourism, fishing, and retail, as the bulk of taxes are local – what is the State doing to plan for and assist with lost revenue?
AML: The Governor has proposed some level of municipal support in response to lost revenue, and AML is participating in discussions about how to effectively implement that. However, everyone should recognize the existing challenges with respect to the State budget. Full or complete reimbursement just may not be possible. That said, federal aid may assist.
Q: Food shortages seem to be or have the potential to be occurring in remote communities, as urban distribution centers faced resident stockpiling. Is there a plan for distributing food and essential supplies, including prescriptions or medical supplies, if shortfalls occur?
AML: Please share any challenges you are currently experiencing with AML and DMVA (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Q: What consideration is there to opening up an additional subsistence season?
AML: We believe that this is being discussed by State officials, but State managers will need to ensure sustainability of stock
Q: If all essential local government officials in a community are incapacitated, what can be done to ensure that essential functions continue?
AML: AML has begun identifying interim managers who may be available, and will work with Affiliate partners to see how we may be able to coordinate additional capacity as necessary.
DCRA: He has to install “meetings” on your laptop. Right now you are going through your desktop (VPN). He told me that all laptops have audio and cameras. Once it is installed we will try it again.