A cruise ship sits in the port of Skagway as tourist season kicks off in May 2018. Skagway’s mayor said the community has resolve and is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the U.S.-Canada border. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Skagway has resolve in the COVID-19 struggle, mayor says

Skagway mayor said border access is important for residents.

Skagway’s mayor said the community has resolve and is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of the U.S.-Canada border.

Mayor Andrew Cremata spoke with the News last week, before the municipality issued a two-week-long shelter-in-place order on March 25.

Under the order, residents are only to leave their homes if they work in a critical job, going to stores to get necessary supplies, to provide or receive medical care and to get fresh air, provided they avoid high-contact public areas like playgrounds and public benches.

Critical businesses, including grocery stores, marijuana dispensaries and childcare facilities will be allowed to remain open, as well as restaurants, provided they do take-out-only service.

Cremata told the News everyone is getting along. Many in the community have stepped up and volunteered to help people get through the crisis.

“Fortunately we have a highly capable team here working on our emergency response,” Cremata said.

This allowed for a quick reaction. Information circled around quickly.

“Everyone is buckling in and waiting to see how long this ride will last,” Cremata said.

He joked that it seemed like the community was going through the stages of grief. There is some disappointment that life has changed but he is confident that Skagway will overcome.

The mayor has checked in with the barge that brings supplies to Skagway. This barge will still be running, even in the event of major port closures due to it being critical in delivering supplies to town.

The barge had come in the day before this interview and stores were well-stocked as a result. He added that residents have been good at not hoarding items.

“We’re doing quite well here in Skagway as far as supplies go,” Cremata said.

The municipal government will continue to monitor the situation. He said the research indicates that Skagway will do fine as far as fuel and supplies are concerned.

The mayor said that Skagway does not rely much on supplies shipped from across the border. That said, he does have concerns about the border closure.

He pointed out that if planes are not flying, the highway becomes important when it comes to getting someone to Whitehorse for emergency medical services. He added this applies to pets who need critical care too, as animal wellness is an issue that is close to his heart.

“It’s arguably more important for us to keep that corridor open,” Cremata said.

He added that just being able to access the Yukon for hiking or fishing is critical to living in Skagway.

Cremata is working with a federal delegation as well as talking with Premier Sandy Silver. They are working to get an exemption.

He said he has been in contact with residents that are travelling in the lower 48 states. All the research showed that these people could get back before the border closures. However, the closure could be a challenge come April when a health care provider was supposed to come up.

He said the information is vague on what and who will be allowed across the border. This creates some uncertainty. This is made worse because he doesn’t know if there will be air service or ferries running.

He said he has learned that you can’t really make plans for this situation as it is always evolving. He joked that it seems like there is a new update that changes everything every 15 minutes.

At the time of the interview, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Skagway. He said all protocols called for by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S.’s national health protection agency, as well as the state and federal governments have been implemented. Like the Yukon’s measures, those include practicing social distancing and going into self-quarantine for 14 days for those coming back from out of town.

“We’re hoping that we never see a case here, but whether that’s realistic, time will tell,” Cremata said.

He advised any Americans currently travelling to quickly get to their destinations and self-isolate. He said he hopes the quicker this happens, the faster this will be all over.

With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Gord Fortin at gord.fortin@yukon-news.com

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