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Letter: Inside baseball

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:14

Thank you for printing Joe Nocera’s commentary on the illogical exemption Major League Baseball receives from federal anti-trust laws. He is right: The usefulness of the exemption has long since passed. Nocera obviously knows baseball, and since he writes with such clarity, perhaps his next piece can be an explication of the infield fly rule.

— Al Alvarez

Eagle River

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Off-road vehicles on highways

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:12

I rarely agree with Paul Jenkins, but his column about the lunacy of the baffling Dunleavy Administration proposal to allow ATVs, snowmachines and other heretofore off-road vehicles on public roads and highways having speed limits of 45 mph or less was spot on.

This administration has done, or tried to do, some pretty stupid things, but this one is downright dangerous and beyond preposterous. I hope sanity prevails and this proposal is stopped in its tracks.

— Carol Johnson

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Kobuk 440 insight

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:11

This letter is to thank Marc Lester for telling us the story of this year’s Kobuk 440 — probably the biggest story, among the many, of this year’s race.  Those of us in COVID-19 confinement can at least have a taste of the blustery snow, the unknown, the deep soft snow, trailbreaking, remember our experiences with bitter cold and a have little exposure to the valiant struggles of our state’s biggest dreamers, daring adventurers and their wonderful dogs tugging along the disappearing trail.  

I enjoyed Mr. Lester’s telling of the tale and was gripped by the story of Jeff King’s battle with hypothermia and his and Philip Hanke’s tough decision to ask for help. I didn’t know, prior to this, that the race had such safeguards as satellite messaging devices, and was relieved to read about them, and the teams of people willing to go out in the blizzard to check on mushers.  Once again, I was reminded of the adventurous spirit in so many Alaskans that leads them to try their hand at dog mushing and, ultimately for some, devote their lives to it. The courage and ridiculously tough spirit of the people who do, and how they handle the challenging conditions of racing dogs across Alaska — in winter, naturally — is so inspiring.

Thank you, Mr. Lester, for taking a heartfelt interest, for telling us the story, and to the Anchorage Daily News, for devoting space, time and money to these types of stories. They, and the race organization, make us proud, and that’s a rare commodity these days. And a big congratulations to Mr. Hanke and Mr. King, for using their wits and intelligence to get back home safely without losing any parts or dogs.

— Jody Seitz

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Eminent domain

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:09

The state of Alaska has filed an action to move forward with a plan to take over a Native allotment of land from the Polk family, in Bethel, for the purpose of building a road. The Department of Transportation has attempted to purchase the land at least seven times from the Polk family; all of the amounts offered have been denied by the Polk family. The Polk family has lived on this land for decades, and it has been a part of their family for many generations. Why is this important, and why should the Alaskan people be paying attention?

Traditionally, eminent domain was supposed to be used for various reasons, such as transportation, supplying water sources, infrastructure, support in defense readiness, and protecting environmentally sensitive areas to name a few. Nationally, this affects many communities of people, including low-income, minorities, and working-class people.

What does this mean for Alaskans? The lands that are affected by eminent domain in Alaska, are Alaska Native allotments. These lands are home to communities and families who have had these lands for generations, much like the Polk family. The Polk case is a great way to get the information out there and for the Bethel community and the community of Alaska as a whole, to take notice of what is happening and urge our government representatives to explore other alternatives to eminent domain.

— Makayla Guild

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Time for responsible budgeting

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:07

Rep. Matt Claman represents West Anchorage, House District 21. He recently did a poll of all us in the district, with about 200 respondents.

The results came in, with more than 74% of respondents giving the governor’s 2022 budget — which includes the $5,000 Permanent Fund dividend — a failing grade of F or D.

Seventy-three percent supported using Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for essential services, and 79% did not favor using the 1982 statutory calculation to determine the dividend amount. Seventy-seven percent chose increasing the size of the dividend as their least choice for allocating increased revenue.  

The dividend was never envisioned by its proponents as an entitlement, but as a way to share with citizens the revenue windfall created by oil. Now that revenue is largely gone, so our personal share has to decrease also. There has been talk about putting the dividend in the Alaska Constitution, which is totally uncalled for, as well as unfair to our future generations and legislators.

Folks, it is time to revisit the graduated personal income tax, with large exemptions for the low wage earners, also exempting the dividend. So the great majority of the revenue would come from our higher-income people, while also getting money from all the nonresidents who benefit  from our resources and take our money back home to the Lower 48.

Our American system has served us well for the past 250 years. It calls on us all to share in the cost of supplying the necessary services and benefits we all need and want. As Jay Hammond used to say, “The American system of democratic government is the very worst one in the world, except for all the rest.”

— Orin Seybert

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Transit center pros and cons

Fri, 2021-04-16 22:06

I am a senior citizen and a longtime rider of the People Mover bus system. I agree with Andrew Halcro in his recent op-ed, where he said that there were many problems inside the downtown transit center.

But closing the transit center, while a simple solution, was not all good. My chief complaint is that we legitimate bus riders must now wait for our buses outdoors in the winter cold. Before the closure, I frequently patronized the coffee stand inside and enjoyed espresso while waiting in warmth for my bus. There are no longer any retail businesses there.

— George Nagel

Anchorage

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Gov. Dunleavy orders investigation of state health department for ‘unauthorized’ data sharing over municipal COVID-19 vaccine calls to Anchorage seniors

Fri, 2021-04-16 18:57

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office is investigating a “potential violation of law” by the state health department for providing data used to help Anchorage seniors get vaccinated against COVID-19.

It’s not clear specifically what triggered the investigation and which laws may have been violated. Dunleavy’s office would provide no additional details after announcing the investigation.

A news release the governor’s office issued Thursday said Dunleavy has directed the Alaska Department of Law to investigate the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services for sharing names and contact information with municipal contractors “through an unauthorized action by staff at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.”

The action occurred outside an established data-sharing agreement between the state and Anchorage Health Department, according to the release.

Anchorage resident Andrée McLeod said she got a call from a municipal contractor last Sunday that raised red flags related to privacy, not vaccines.

McLeod said she was “stunned” to pick up the phone last weekend and find contractor AM TRACE asking if she’d been vaccinated. She said she hung up.

Then she called back to ask how they’d gotten her name and number. A supervisor repeatedly told her the company got its call lists — which apparently contain cellphone numbers — from the Anchorage Health Department.

McLeod reached out to an Anchorage Assembly member to voice her concerns, according to an email she sent Dunleavy and other top state officials on Friday.

In the email, she asked if the state is keeping a list of vaccine recipients, what kind of state lists contain names and phone numbers — and what laws or policies “protect the disclosure of personal, private information of Alaska residents kept by the State of Alaska.”

Anchorage municipal health officials say the contact information was part of an ongoing partnership with the state to encourage residents to get vaccinated.

They said the state health department provided “limited” contact information, which was transmitted securely.

The state “requested that we help the vaccination effort by connecting with seniors in Anchorage who might need assistance signing up for a vaccine appointment,” Chelsea Ward-Waller, spokeswoman for the Anchorage Health Department, said in an email.

The information was used by municipal contractors to make 1,275 calls to Anchorage residents, Ward-Waller said.

“Not everyone wants to get vaccinated, and we have not — and will never — mandate or coerce vaccinations,” she said.

The calls were based on a script that included a response for people who had no interest in getting vaccinated: “Thank you very much for your time and have a nice day.”

Callers who were asked how they got people’s numbers were told to say, “... we got it from the Anchorage Health Department and we are reaching out to support people in Anchorage with getting the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The governor’s decision to order an investigation was first reported by Must Read Alaska, which also reported initial concerns about the contractor’s vaccine calls.

According to the governor’s news release, Dunleavy directed Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum to “conduct an internal review of all the department’s data sharing agreements.” Dunleavy in a statement said the health department “will report back to me with new policies and procedures that will prevent this from happening again.”

Officials from the state Department of Health and Social Services did not respond to several requests for information or interviews and said the Department of Law is handling any information requests during the ongoing investigation.

Maria Bahr, a Department of Law spokeswoman and assistant attorney general appointed this month to serve as a Fairbanks District Court judge, declined to answer any questions Thursday.

“Senior leadership just learned of this, and the Governor wanted to act quickly to let the public know,” Bahr said in an email. “However, that means that our investigation has only just begun and it will take some time to make sure we have accurate information.”

Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner said he couldn’t answer any questions due to the ongoing investigation.

Turner and Bahr didn’t answer additional questions about what prompted Dunleavy’s decision.

“As we stated yesterday, we are still investigating exactly what occurred and what may rise to the level of a violation, so there is no further information we can provide at this time,” Bahr said Friday.

Municipal officials pushing for a return to more normal operations by summer say they could lift a new COVID-19 emergency order enacted this week once the city’s health department certifies that 70% of eligible Anchorage residents are fully vaccinated.

As of Friday, 41% of Anchorage residents 16 and older fall into that category.

In Friday’s updated Anchorage election results, leaders remain the same, but one school board race is headed for a recount

Fri, 2021-04-16 17:32

Election worker Bonnie Jack places a tub of ballots on a cart before they are placed in a mail sorting machine on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at the Municipality of Anchorage election center. The municipality is continuing to count ballots a day after election day. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

With almost all ballots counted in the Anchorage election, results posted Friday show no changes to the leaders in the race for the Anchorage mayor’s office and for four school board seats, although one school board seat is likely headed for a recount.

In the mayor’s race, Dave Bronson was still leading with just more than 33% of the vote, and Forrest Dunbar had 31% of the vote. The two will advance to a runoff election on May 11.

Each of the four leaders in the school board race have been endorsed by Anchorage Democrats and the Anchorage Education Association. Two of the leaders recently declared victory. For others, the race is closer, and one currently meets the requirement for an automatic recount. Two school board incumbents are set to lose their seats.

The election results are not official until they are certified by the Anchorage Assembly on April 20. More than 75,200 ballots have been counted so far, and Friday’s results are not final. Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said the numbers will change Monday, with about 100 ballots left to count and more arriving by mail.

Although Friday was the last day a regular ballot postmarked on or before April 6 can arrive by mail and be included, overseas ballots can arrive and be counted until April 20.

In addition to mayoral and school board race leaders, the results for 11 ballot propositions, including seven bonds, and the results of the recall also remained unchanged Friday:

School board seat B:

Kelly Lessens is still ahead with 38.8% of the vote, but she has just a 0.36% margin — amounting to 235 votes — over opponent Judy Eledge, who has 38.44%. That means the city clerk will likely need to conduct a recount. Municipal code requires that a recount be conducted if a candidate wins by less than 0.5%.

School board seat E:

Pat Higgins is leading with 33% of the vote, with 383 more votes than opponent Sami Graham, who has 32% of the vote. Incumbent Alisha Hilde appears to be losing the race. On Monday, Higgins in a news release declared victory over the five other candidates for the seat.

School board seat F:

Dora Wilson is far ahead of the three other candidates in this race, with 45% of the vote and a 7,166-vote lead over opponent Kim Paulson. With so few ballots left to count, Wilson is also set to win the seat.

School board seat G:

Carl Jacobs is winning against incumbent school board president Elisa Vakalis, who is poised to lose her seat. Jacobs, with a little more than 51% of the vote, has a 1,516-vote lead over Vakalis. Jacobs on Thursday also declared victory in a Facebook post.

Recall:

District 4 voters are still rejecting an initiative to recall Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera. It had 43% of the vote on Wednesday.

Propositions:

Two of the 11 propositions on the ballot, Proposition 1 and Proposition 8, are also still failing. Proposition 1 is a $6.9 million bond proposal that would fund various capital projects. Proposition 8 is a $3.9 million bond proposal to fund new Anchorage police fleet vehicles and other improvements.

Voters were still passing the five other bond propositions with wide margins.

Proposition 4, a tax levy to help the Anchorage Police Department replace aging technology and supply officers with body cameras, is also succeeding with about 54% of the vote.

COVID-19 vaccines — minus the needle? Researchers working on capsules, nasal sprays

Fri, 2021-04-16 16:25

Doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Al Seib/The Los Angeles Times/TNS) (Al Seib/)

LOS ANGELES — With 13 COVID-19 vaccines in use around the world, pharmaceutical companies are exploring second-generation technology that could change how doses are administered and distributed.

These vaccines could be taken orally as a capsule that could be swallowed, as a tablet that dissolves under the tongue or as a nasal spray. Such formulations would not require refrigeration, nor would they need health care workers to administer them.

The efforts are in early stages with no guarantee of success. Research and development costs are steep, and only a small number of companies — none with a vaccine currently authorized for use — are exploring these alternate methods. The work may seem like a gamble but could play a critical role in ending the pandemic.

“It is encouraging to see manufacturers pursue easier to administer formulas of the vaccine,” said Esther Krofah, executive director of the Milken Institute’s FasterCures. “We need to have a global focus, and not just a domestic focus.”

With 22% of its population vaccinated, the Unites States has administered more doses than any other country in the world, and data show that high-income countries have been more effective distributing doses than low-income countries.

“The United States can’t be safe if the rest of the world is not safe,” said Bruce Innis with PATH, a nonprofit working in 70 countries to ensure global healthcare equity. “At a time in the country when the lens of equity is applied to everything, we can’t feel good about getting a vaccine if that isn’t happening everywhere.”

Current vaccines need syringes and refrigeration. These requirements present logistical challenges if the SARS-Cov-2 virus is to be eradicated.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require ultra-cold storage or dry ice. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has been put on hold while officials study reports of very rare but dangerous blood clots, can be stored in temperatures just above freezing.

According to FasterCures, which is tracking 326 COVID-19 treatments and 252 vaccines, five companies are developing oral vaccines, and two — ImmunityBio and Vaxart — have progressed to Phase 1 clinical trials.

Thirteen companies are working on intranasal sprays, and five are in early clinical trials.

“We should not underestimate how challenging it is to create the right vaccine formulations that will generate an effective immune response,” Krofah said.

[A year into the pandemic, it’s even more clear that it’s safer to be outside]

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said he is impressed that two companies are in Phase 1 trials.

“People have been looking to create an oral vaccine for a long time without a whole lot of success,” Schaffner said. “This is exciting, novel and distinctive.”

Other experts are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Phase 1 is a long, long way from having a product,” Dr. Paul Offit, with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in an email, adding that there is no downside for the FDA to approve early studies.

“I’d pay attention if it goes from Phase 1 to Phase 2 and gets to Phase 3,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, deputy director of the Immunization Action Coalition, a nonprofit that provides information about vaccines and their distribution. “Many good ideas fall out between Phase 1 and Phase 2 and even more do not make it to Phase 3.”

In February, the Food and Drug Administration approved the expansion of a Phase 1 clinical trial by ImmunityBio to include two other versions of its COVID-19 vaccine: a capsule that can be swallowed and a tablet that dissolves under the tongue. The company has been testing the injectable version of its vaccine for six months. The tests are being administered by Hoag Hospital Newport Beach and have expanded from 35 to 140 participants.

ImmunityBio, based in El Segundo, is the only company to be simultaneously testing both injectable and oral versions of its vaccine, according to FasterCures data. ImmunityBio’s chairman and chief executive, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, also owns The Times.

The vaccine developed by ImmunityBio is different from the vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Those vaccines prompt the immune system to generate antibodies against the virus’ spike protein. The ImmunityBio vaccine, however, is designed to induce antibodies against not just the spike protein on the outside of the virus but also a different protein on the inside of the virus.

Because the inside protein is less likely to mutate than the spike protein, the vaccine could potentially be more effective against coronavirus variants, experts say.

“My concept of an ideal vaccine,” said Soon-Shiong, “is one that doesn’t need refrigeration, offers quadruple immunity with antibody, T cell, mucosal and long-term memory protection, and most importantly, protects against the variants that are now emerging.”

Last week, ImmunityBio released preliminary results from the Phase 1 trial of its injectable vaccine, which showed a “ten-fold increase” in the T cell response — a key immunological response — among participants in the trial, compared with people who had been infected with the virus.

The biotech firm Vaxart, based in South San Francisco, began Phase 1 clinical trials in the fall for an oral vaccine for COVID-19.

Preliminary results released in February indicated that while its vaccine did not produce neutralizing antibodies, “we did see fantastic T cell responses,” said Dr. Sean Tucker, founder and chief scientific officer of Vaxart.

“The profile of a tablet vaccine is compelling,” said Tucker, citing its stability at room temperature and the fact that it is easy to transport and swallow and doesn’t need needles to administer. “However, it’s just been tough to get oral vaccination to work. Typically, the vaccine gets degraded like food.”

The oral polio vaccine — a benchmark of success — took nearly 10 years to develop. First introduced as an injectable vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1953, the oral version, formulated by Albert Sabin, appeared in 1962. The near eradication of polio throughout the world is credited largely to the convenience of an oral vaccine.

But the poliovirus is a different type of virus than the novel coronavirus. They are both equally contagious, but a polio infection begins in the digestive tract before reaching the nervous system and causing paralysis, An oral vaccine for polio targets the initial site of infection.

Oral vaccines have similarly been effective against rotavirus and salmonella, but according to Dr. Buddy Creech, director of the vaccine research program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the challenge is to make sure that enough of the vaccine survives in the stomach to trigger an immune response.

As a respiratory illness, the novel coronavirus is similar to influenza, and while the influenza vaccine is typically given as a shot in the arm, one company has developed an intranasal version. FluMist is an aerosolized spray that targets the nose and throat where the virus’ infection often begins. FluMist, Creech said, produces an immune response on par and in some ways better than an injected vaccine.

Methods for administering a vaccine are not the only impediment to greater global distribution. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be stored at minus 94-degrees Fahrenheit, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs to be stored at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pfizer is developing a powder version of its vaccine, according to a company spokesperson. Essentially freeze-dried, a vaccine in this form is more stable than a liquid vaccine, and its storage requirements are comparable to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Once on site, the Pfizer vaccine would be reconstituted as a liquid and injected. It is also being reformulated to require one shot. Clinical trials on this version of their injectable vaccine have not yet started.

Finding an alternative vaccine delivery method is a “huge investment,” said Moore, of the Immunization Action Coalition, which is why most companies avoid it, and for companies that have yet to produce a viable vaccine, it is a gamble.

“Convenience is meaningless if the vaccine itself doesn’t work,” said Dr. Lawrence Steinman, an immunologist and neurologist at Stanford University.

Chicago police critics call for charges in fatal shooting of 13-year-old boy

Fri, 2021-04-16 16:05

Little Village residents Victoria Ramon-Fox, left, and Haley Scott, right, light a candle at a memorial for Adam Toledo in the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue, Friday, April 16, 2021 in Chicago. Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Chicago boy appears to have dropped a handgun and begun raising his hands less than a second before a police officer shot and killed him last month, footage released Thursday under community pressure shows. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP) (Pat Nabong/Sun-Times/)

CHICAGO — Newly released video that shows a Chicago police officer fatally shoot a 13-year-old will be key evidence when prosecutors consider a case against the officer and are confronted with both the emotions surrounding the chilling footage and legal precedent that makes it difficult to bring charges against law enforcement.

Video of last month’s encounter was released Thursday and provoked an outpouring of grief and outrage. It shows Officer Eric Stillman shooting Adam Toledo less than a second after the boy drops a handgun, turns toward Stillman and begins raising his hands.

Some viewers have called for Stillman to be charged or fired. But for others, the video shows how difficult such decisions might be for prosecutors and police higher-ups, with an officer making a quick decision to shoot after chasing a suspect down a dark alley while responding to a report about gunshots.

Whether Stillman is charged will be up to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which will get the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s report after the independent board completes its investigation.

Several legal experts said Friday that they don’t think Stillman could be charged under criteria established by a landmark 1989 Supreme Court ruling on the use of force by police, though another said prosecutors might see enough evidence to justify an involuntary manslaughter charge and let a jury decide guilt or innocence.

The killing of Toledo, who was Latino, by Stillman, who is white, adds to already-heightened tension over policing in Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S., particularly in Black and Latino communities. The videos and other investigative materials were released against the backdrop of the trial in Minneapolis of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd and the recent police killing of another Black man, Daunte Wright, in one of that city’s suburbs.

In Chicago, a demonstration was planned for Friday to call for justice for Toledo, after small groups of protesters gathered at a police station and marched downtown Thursday night. Some downtown businesses boarded up their windows in the expectation there could be unrest, but the Thursday protest was peaceful.

Although Mayor Lori Lightfoot implored the public to keep the peace and allow the police review board complete its investigation, some had already made up their minds about what happened to Toledo, whose mother described him as a curious and goofy seventh grader who loved animals, riding his bike and junk food.

Speaking Friday on the floor of the Illinois House, state Rep. Edgar Gonzalez, who lives four blocks from where Toledo died, called the killing a “murder” and expressed frustration at what he described as a too-familiar pattern of police abuse.

“So if you put your hands up, they shoot. If you put your hands down, they shoot. If you walk, you run, you hide, you sleep, you do exactly as they say, they still shoot,” Gonzalez said. “So I ask the members of this chamber, what are we supposed to do?”

When asked about the video Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it “chilling” and a reminder that across the country, “law enforcement uses unnecessary force too often, resulting in the death of black and brown Americans.” She said she didn’t know if President Joe Biden had watched it.

Stillman was responding with other officers to reports of shots fired in Little Village, a predominantly Hispanic, working class neighborhood of the city’s southwest side, at around 3 a.m. on March 29. Nineteen seconds elapsed from when Stillman got out of his squad car to when he shot Toledo. His jumpy, nighttime bodycam footage shows him chasing Toledo on foot down an alley for several seconds and yelling “Police! Stop! Stop right (expletive) now!”

As the teen slows down, Stillman yells “Hands! Hands! Show me your (expletive) hands!”

Toledo then turns toward the camera, Stillman yells “Drop it!” and midway between repeating that command, he opens fire and Toledo falls down. While approaching the wounded boy, Stillman radios in for an ambulance. He can be heard imploring Toledo to “stay awake,” and as other officers arrive, an officer says he can’t feel a heartbeat and begins administering CPR.

Other video footage released Thursday shows that Toledo had a gun in his right hand just before he was shot, and Stillman’s bodycam footage shows him shining a light on a handgun on the ground near Toledo after he shot him.

In its 1989 ruling, the Supreme Court said officers’ use of force may be legal if they truly believed their lives were at risk in the moment — even though, in hindsight, it becomes clear they weren’t actually in danger.

The legality of a deadly shooting, the high court said, “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Similar wording is incorporated into Illinois law and the Chicago Police Department’s use-of-force guidelines.

Stillman knew Toledo had a gun within a second or two of shooting him, and the officer knew shots had been fired in the area minutes earlier, said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago.

“I don’t think there is any question that any other reasonable officer would have acted in the same way that officer acted,” Turner said. “It was such a spilt-second decision. I don’t think the officer will be charged.”

Stillman’s attorney, Tim Grace, said said the officer “was faced with a life-threatening and deadly force situation” and that “All prior attempts to deescalate and gain compliance with all of the officer’s lawful orders had failed.”

But Adeena Weiss-Ortiz, an attorney for Toledo’s family, told reporters it’s irrelevant whether Toledo was holding a gun before he turned toward the officer.

“If he had a gun, he tossed it,” she said. “The officer said, ‘Show me your hands.” He complied. He turned around.”

Stillman, who served in Afghanistan with the Marines and is a staff sergeant in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve, joined the police department in 2015, according to an incident report from the shooting.

During his six years with the department, Stillman has been named in at least four use-of-force reports, according to data collected by the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based group that tracks police misconduct. In each report, the subjects were listed as Black men in their late 20s or older. The reports include a takedown/emergency handcuffing in 2017, and wristlocks, takedowns/emergency handcuffings and strikes with an open hand in 2018 and 2019.

Alison Flowers, who heads the institute’s investigations, called the number of reports “concerning,” adding, “Usually, we see that level of activity more over the course of a long career, not in a matter of just six years.”

In addition to posting Stillman’s bodycam footage, the review board released footage from other bodycams, four third-party videos, two audio recordings of 911 calls, and six audio recordings from ShotSpotter, the technology that led police to respond to the sound of gunshots that morning.

Toledo and a 21-year-old man fled on foot when confronted by police. The man, Ruben Roman, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest but was later charged with felonies including the reckless discharge of a firearm, illegal use of a weapon by a felon and child endangerment. He was ordered held on $150,000 bond.

Right after the shooting, people in the community started calling on the review board to release any bodycam footage of it. The Chicago Police Department has a long history of brutality and racism that has fomented mistrust among the city’s many Black and Latino residents. And the city has a history of suppressing damning police videos, including its efforts to prevent the release of footage of the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald by a white officer who was eventually convicted of murder.

___

Associated Press writers John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, Don Babwin, Kathleen Foody and Sophia Tareen in Chicago, and Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, contributed to this report.

Alaska will offer free COVID-19 vaccines to tourists starting June 1

Fri, 2021-04-16 15:34

Travelers enter a screening station for at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The state of Alaska will begin offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to tourists arriving and departing the state through four of its biggest airports starting June 1, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday.

“The idea is that we have access to vaccines, so why not use them? So this is what we’re saying to our tourists: If you come to Alaska — and this will start on June 1 — if you come to Alaska, you get a free vaccination,” he said.

The vaccinations will be offered at the Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan and Fairbanks airports, said Heidi Hedberg, director of the Alaska Division of Public Health.

She said a “soft rollout” will take place for five days at the end of April in Anchorage to judge interest.

“Right now, we have plenty of vaccines for all Alaskans,” she said when asked whether there is enough vaccine for the plan.

The vaccination program is part of a broader effort to encourage Alaska tourism. Other parts of the effort include a multimillion-dollar tourism advertising campaign and a request for $150 million in economic relief for tourism-related businesses.

The relief program would require approval from the Alaska Legislature. The advertising campaign would use already-authorized money, according to information provided by the governor’s office.

I'm announcing today that any tourist coming into Alaska this summer at our major airports will be able to get a #CovidVaccine free of charge. #akgov #Alaska #COVID19

— Governor Mike Dunleavy (@GovDunleavy) April 16, 2021

In a typical year, most Alaska tourists arrive in the state by cruise ship. Because of COVID-19, large cruise ships have been halted for a second consecutive summer.

With no large ships bound for the state and overland travel blocked by Canadian quarantine rules, various organizations and corporations have been encouraging independent travelers to fly to the state instead.

[Alaska’s struggling economy shows no obvious signs of ‘organic’ recovery, UAA economist says]

Details about the state’s advertising campaign are still sparse, but according to the governor’s office, money from last year’s federal CARES Act will be used to “place targeted advertisements on national television programs and other means of communication throughout the spring and summer, encouraging Americans to visit Alaska as a COVID-safe destination.”

Other CARES Act money will be given to nonprofits that boost tourism, the governor’s office said. The amount and timing of the grants was not immediately available.

Details of the aid package for tourism-related businesses are still under development. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will be speaking with affected communities over the next several weeks, he said, and the administration will incorporate information from those conversations into the final plan.

More is known about the vaccination program, which has been under development since at least late March.

Hedberg said the plan is envisioned as a method to get vaccines to both Alaskans and incoming visitors.

“The vaccination clinics are actually going to be outside of security. And this is the beauty: So for Alaskans that are coming to welcome their family members that live out of state, they can get vaccinated at the airport,” she said.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be used, she said. Each requires a second dose several weeks after the first.

“We recognize that when individuals come up to Alaska, that they may not stay for 21 days or 28 days,” she said, and while she would encourage tourists to come to Alaska, they can get their second shot at home.

If they do stay in the state, she said, they would be able to get the second shot at any vaccination clinic, not just those taking place at the airports.

“Right now what we’re saying is today’s the day. Alaskans, please get educated, please get vaccinated, and starting June 1, it’s going to be opened up for those tourists,” she said.

The program is open to international visitors as well as Americans.

“You have some places — even Japan, I think they have 1% or 2% of the population vaccinated,” Dunleavy said. “Look at Alaska, 65 and older, 66% of our population’s vaccinated.”

“We’re going to now open this up so that it’s more available to all Alaskans and people coming in at the airports,” he said.

Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 189 cases and no deaths reported Friday

Fri, 2021-04-16 15:16

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Alaska on Friday reported 189 coronavirus infections and no COVID-19-related deaths, according to data from the Department of Health and Social Services.

Although case counts and hospitalizations in Alaska remain below what they were during a peak in November and December, most regions in the state are still in the highest alert category based on their current per capita rate of infection.

In total, 329 Alaskans and five nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state last spring. Alaska’s death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country.

Health officials continue to encourage Alaskans to wear face coverings in public, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated against COVID-19 to prevent further spread.

Alaska in March became the first state in the country to open vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older who lives or works in the state. You can visit covidvax.alaska.gov or call 907-646-3322 to sign up for a vaccine appointment; new appointments are added regularly. The phone line is staffed 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

By Friday, 290,265 people — about 47% of Alaskans eligible for a shot — had received at least their first dose. At least 234,735 people — about 39% of Alaskans 16 and older — were considered fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine monitoring dashboard.

By Friday, there were 42 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in hospitals throughout the state, far below a peak in late 2020 but part of a slight increase over the last few weeks.

Of the 182 cases reported among Alaska residents, there were 62 in Anchorage plus three in Eagle River; 31 in Wasilla; 22 in Fairbanks; 16 in Palmer; 13 in Soldotna; nine in North Pole; five in Kenai; three in Delta Junction; one in Valdez; one in Willow; two in Nome; one in Kotzebue; one in Juneau; and two in Wrangell.

Among communities smaller than 1,000 people that aren’t named to protect residents’ privacy, there was one in the northern Kenai Peninsula Borough; two in the Fairbanks North Star Borough; one in Yakutat plus Hoonah Angoon; one in the Aleutians East Borough; three in the Bethel Census Area; and one in an unidentified region of the state.

There were also seven new cases among nonresidents: one in Anchorage, two in Fairbanks, one in Wrangell, one in Unalaska and two in unidentified regions of the state.

While people might get tested more than once, each case reported by the state health department represents only one person.

The state’s data doesn’t specify whether people testing positive for COVID-19 have symptoms. More than half of the nation’s infections are transmitted from asymptomatic people, according to CDC estimates.

Note: The state no longer updates its coronavirus dashboard over the weekend, and will instead include that data in Monday’s report.

— Annie Berman

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Interior secretary revokes Trump-era orders on energy, including one intended to boost drilling in NPR-A

Fri, 2021-04-16 13:52

A northern section of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on the state's North Slope. (Anne Raup / ADN archive 1997)

WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday revoked a series of Trump administration orders that promoted fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and issued a separate directive that prioritizes climate change in agency decisions.

The moves are part of a government-wide effort by the Biden administration to address climate change ahead of a virtual global summit on climate change that President Joe Biden is hosting next week.

“From day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy and address environmental justice,” Haaland said in a statement. The new orders will “make our communities more resilient to climate change and ... help lead the transition to a clean energy economy,” she added.

The orders revoke Trump-era directives that boosted coal, oil and gas leasing on federal lands and promoted what Trump called “energy dominance” in the United States. Haaland also rescinded a Trump administration order intended to increase oil drilling in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

[Previous coverage: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke vows to reinvigorate Alaska oil industry]

Haaland called the orders by her predecessors, Ryan Zinke and David Bernhardt, “inconsistent with the department’s commitment to protect public health; conserve land, water, and wildlife; and elevate science.”

Collectively, the previous orders “tilted the balance of public land and ocean management without regard for climate change, equity or community engagement,” Haaland said.

The new orders do not affect Interior’s ongoing review of proposals for oil, gas, coal and renewable energy development on public lands and waters, she said.

Environmental groups heralded the orders and pledged to work with Haaland to ensure Interior Department decisions are guided by science and respect for Indigenous communities, wildlife, outdoor recreation and other uses.

More than 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions originate on public lands, and Interior has “unrivaled opportunities to restore natural carbon sinks, responsibly deploy clean energy and reduce existing emissions,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Rescinding the previous administration’s orders that encouraged unfettered drilling in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas and establishing a climate task force will help ensure wise management of our natural resources for people and wildlife alike,” O’Mara said.

One of the orders issued by Haaland cancels a 2017 action that revoked a moratorium on federal coal reserve sales that had been imposed under President Barack Obama to deal with climate change.

Agency spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said Friday’s move does not automatically resurrect the coal moratorium. “Today’s announcement does not take any action on coal development. We are continuing to review an appropriate path going forward,” she said.

The coal moratorium brought a sharp backlash by Republicans, who said it was evidence of a “war on coal” by Obama and other Democrats. The moratorium had little practical effect, however, since interest among companies in leasing large tracts of federal land dried up when coal markets collapsed over the last decade amid competition with cheaper natural gas.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s top lobbying group, warned that policies aimed at slowing or stopping oil and natural gas production on federal lands and waters could harm national security, environmental progress and the economy.

“Banning or greatly hindering federal leasing ... would threaten decades of American energy and climate progress and return us to greater reliance on foreign energy with lower environmental standards,” said Kevin O’Scannlain, an API vice president.

__

Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed to this story.

Threat made involving security employee at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage

Fri, 2021-04-16 13:35

A University of Alaska Anchorage police officer sits in his patrol vehicle outside the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage on Friday, April 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

An incident involving a contracted security firm employee at the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus prompted a campus-wide alert but did not keep vaccinations from continuing on site Friday.

On Friday morning, the University of Alaska Anchorage announced that campus police had been notified of a “credible threat to personnel at the Alaska Airlines Center,” asking those nearby to report anything suspicious to authorities.

The center — currently being used by the state’s health department to administer monoclonal antibody infusions and as a vaccination site — increased security Friday, but vaccine appointments went on as scheduled, a spokesman for the department said.

“The situation is an internal workplace issue involving an employee of a security firm contracted by DHSS to support the Alaska Airlines Center. Threats were made to individuals of the security company,” health department spokesman Clinton Bennett wrote in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

Bennett said there were no threats made to patients, employees or to the Alaska Airlines Center itself.

“The employees involved no longer have access to the premises,” Bennett wrote.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

110 days after Bethel woman reported sexual assault, police arrest the man she accused

Fri, 2021-04-16 13:18

This article was originally published at KYUK.org and is republished here with permission.

-----

BETHEL -- More than three months after a Bethel woman reported that she was sexually assaulted, Bethel Police arrested her alleged rapist.

The woman, Juanita Nick, said that she was raped by a 32-year-old Bethel resident, Samuel Steven Jenkins, the night of Dec. 18, 2020. Jenkins faces two felony charges of sexual assault in the second degree - penetration of an incapacitated victim, and sexual assault in the third degree.

As of April 12, Jenkins was being held in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correctional Center on $75,000 bail. He was arraigned on April 9, and his preliminary hearing will be on April 26.

After Nick reported that she was raped, she was administered a sexual assault kit at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. She said that it took 34 days for Bethel police to pick up her sexual assault kit. Bethel police would not comment on the timeline.

Several months after her initial report to police, Nick protested what she said was the criminal justice system’s inaction on her case.

[A Bethel woman reported she was raped. After months of delays in the case, she publicly protested inaction by police and prosecutors.]

Nick’s protest prompted the Bethel City Council to hire an independent investigator to review the city’s handling of sexual assault cases.

FBI says agents interviewed FedEx shooter last year after his mother expressed fear of violence

Fri, 2021-04-16 13:15

A body is taken from the scene where multiple people were shot at a FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis, Friday, April 16, 2021. A gunman killed several people and wounded others before taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) (Michael Conroy/)

FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

By CASEY SMITH and RICK CALLAHAN Associated Press/Report for America

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — FBI agents last year interviewed the gunman who fatally shot eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, the bureau said Friday, as investigators searched the home of the 19-year-old former FedEx employee.

Coroners began the slow process of identifying the victims as family members spent hours agonizing over word of their loved ones. The slayings Thursday night marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings to rock the U.S.

The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Paul Keenan, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology.

McCartt said Hole was a former employee of the company and last worked for FedEx in 2020. McCartt said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for Thursday’s shooting but added that law enforcement officers seized a gun from him last year. McCartt also said authorities are still identifying the victims and that not all of the victims’ families have been notified.

Hole started randomly firing at people in the parking lot and then went into the building and continued shooting late Thursday night, McCartt said. He said the shooter apparently killed himself shortly before police entered the building.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said four people were killed outside the building and another four inside. Several people were also wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital. McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes.

Officials with the coroner’s office began the process of identifying victims Friday afternoon, a process they said would take several hours.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “deeply saddened to learn” that Sikh community members were among the wounded and killed.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.” The coalition’s executive director, Satjeet Kaur, noted that more than 8,000 Sikh Americans live in Indiana.

The agonizing wait by the workers’ families was exacerbated by the fact that most employees aren’t allowed to carry cellphones inside the FedEx building, making contact with them difficult.

“When you see notifications on your phone, but you’re not getting a text back from your kid and you’re not getting information and you still don’t know where they are … what are you supposed to do?” Mindy Carson said early Friday, fighting back tears.

Carson later said she had heard from her daughter Jessica, who works in the facility, and that she was OK. She was going to meet her, but didn’t say where.

FedEx said in a statement that cellphone access is limited to a small number of workers in the dock and package sorting areas to “support safety protocols and minimize potential distractions.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was “horrified and heartbroken” by the shooting and called for congressional action on gun control.

“As we pray for the families of all affected, we must work urgently to enact commonsense gun violence prevention laws to save lives & prevent this suffering,” the Democratic leader said in a tweet.

A witness said he was working inside the building when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

A man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in the driver’s seat of her car when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.

“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until April 20, and he and others decried the shooting.

Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis office, said the bureau is helping with the investigation.

Proposed change to Anchorage land use code becomes focus of debate over future of homeless shelters

Fri, 2021-04-16 12:58



The Mass Emergency Shelter operated by Beans's Cafe in the Sullivan Arena, photographed on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

A community debate is playing out over a proposed change to Anchorage’s land use code that could transform where homeless shelters can be located in the city.

City leaders want to change Anchorage’s code to allow new homeless shelters in areas zoned as “B-3” business districts, rather than just in scarce “public lands and institutions” zoning districts — currently the only place shelters can exist.

The proposal is still in the drafting process and will likely not even be considered by the Anchorage Assembly until June, according to Chair Felix Rivera. A companion ordinance that would create a licensing framework for shelters is also in the works.

But in recent weeks, resolutions against — and in support of — the change have been introduced in community councils across the city, spurring heated conversations.

The debate over where shelters should be allowed gets to the heart of vexing questions about how the city should house its burgeoning homeless population. It’s a longstanding issue made more pressing by the looming closure of a temporary mass emergency shelter at Sullivan Arena, which currently houses almost 400 people each night.

Neighborhood debates

The fact that the plan is already attracting notice is a sign of just how consequential the issue is, said Paul Berger, the owner of the Carousel Lounge in Spenard.

Last week, Berger introduced a resolution against the proposed change in a Zoom meeting of the Spenard Community Council.

To a screen full of Spenard residents sitting on their couches and at their kitchen tables in the late evening light, he explained that he was worried the change could pave the way for a new shelter in Spenard.

”I’m very concerned about petty crime, disturbances, trespassing, which I believe would increase,” Berger told the group.

One neighbor chimed in to say that he found the idea that the neighborhood might be overtaken by outsiders offensive.

“These are our housing insecure neighbors,” he said.

Moreover, “they are not being pushed out of downtown to here,” said the neighbor. “They are already here. They are camping in my neighborhood, all of the time.”

Others raised questions about neighborhood equity — would it be fair to dump problems on one area? Another chimed in that she thought drug treatment, not shelters, should be a priority.


Paul Berger said he wants to get the word out on how people can get involved in their community council meetings. Thursday April 15, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

“I was kind of surprised with how emotional people were getting,” Berger said a week later in an interview.

The conversation stayed civil and away from personal attacks, said Lindsey Hajduk, president of the Spenard Community Council.

Title 21: What’s proposed

The debate is over a proposed change to Anchorage’s governing land use code, Title 21.

Currently, under city code, homeless shelters are limited to designated “public lands and institutions” districts. Most of that land is already developed, or dedicated parkland unsuitable for housing, such as the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.

To add shelter beds, entities would need to pursue a lengthy and cumbersome process to rezone land and then apply for a conditional use permit, said Francis McLaughlin, a city planner.

The city wants to change Title 21 to allow homeless shelters to be located in areas zoned as “B-3” business districts, which are mostly along major roadways. Those locations have more land available, are likely to be close to transit and other services and are not in residential areas, McLaughlin said.

In Anchorage, “B-3” zoned areas are grouped around the Northern Lights and Benson Boulevard corridor in Midtown Anchorage, as well as the Seward Highway corridor to the south.


Catholic Social Services operates the Brother Francis Shelter, which serves the most vulnerable homeless people who are older and more medically fragile. Thursday April 15, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Historically, homeless shelters have been clustered downtown and in Ship Creek. Changing the rules “would give the community more flexibility on where to place new homeless shelters,” according to the municipal planning department.

Even under the change, any proposed new shelters would still have to apply for a conditional use permit, the highest level of review, McLaughlin said.

Homeless shelters would also have to:

• Be more than 500 feet from other homeless and transient shelters.

• Be within a quarter mile of a public transit route.

• Have onsite storage for personal belongings, according to the proposal.

Without a change, it’s unlikely that a site for more shelter beds will be built.

“It is nearly impossible to site any new shelter beds when there’s only currently one zoning district that allows shelters,” McLaughlin said.

A decentralized approach, but how?

Anchorage nonprofits that serve people experiencing homelessness have said that new sheltering options are needed in order to shut down what’s supposed to be a temporary emergency shelter operating out of Sullivan Arena since the beginning of the pandemic.


Socially distanced cots on the floor of the Mass Emergency Shelter operated by Beans's Cafe in Sullivan Arena on a rainy Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Roxanne Jnolewis reads a book in the Mass Emergency Shelter operated by Beans's Cafe in Sullivan Arena on Feb. 24, 2021. Jnolewis said at the time that she had been staying at the shelter since the end of last May and was on a waiting list for housing and other services. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)
Bean's Cafe safety monitor Lupe Cruz wands a client entering the Mass Emergency Shelter in Sullivan Arena on Feb. 24, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

That presents a challenge: As of April 6, the mass shelter was almost at capacity, according to a presentation from Emergency Operations Center leaders, with 394 of 400 beds taken. The city has also been paying to house hundreds of other people, mostly elderly or with medical issues, at hotels around town.

Where will all those people go when the emergency shelter — and the federal pandemic-related funding to pay for it — are gone?


A client enters the Mass Emergency Shelter operated by Beans's Cafe in Sullivan Arena on Feb. 24, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

That’s the question that needs to be answered, said Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Bean’s Cafe, in an interview in February. Before Sullivan Arena closes, a new shelter system must be in place or the city will have a “humanitarian crisis” on its hands, Sauder said.

Bean’s Cafe has been operating the Sullivan shelter, and Sauder has said Bean’s would be likely to pursue operating a new shelter of some kind.

One thing is clear: The old way of sheltering homeless individuals is gone for good. Brother Francis Shelter housed 240 or more people before the pandemic. Now, it has a maximum of about 64 residents, mostly for medical respite care. There’s no plan to go back to sheltering hundreds of people in the industrial district of Ship Creek.

“We will never have another Brother Francis type situation,” Rivera said. “That can be in the history books and we never have to turn back to that again.”

The new approach leans on decentralization: Smaller shelters in areas where people already are spending their time.

The city says it wants to use a mix of shelter types to house people post-Sullivan Arena, including “congregate, non‐congregate, private shelters, community housing, treatment programs, care homes and skilled nursing facilities.” All of those scenarios rely on Anchorage adding shelter beds. But where?

Proponents of changing the rules say the zoning limitations have kept Anchorage from adding needed shelter beds.


Janice Reynolds is currently staying in the women's dorm at Brother Francis Shelter that has been reduced from 28 beds to nine beds during the pandemic. Photographed Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The city planning department has been meeting with community councils and other groups to present the idea since last November, McLaughlin said. In March, the municipal Planning and Zoning Commission voted yes on the change. The next stop will be the Anchorage Assembly, which is expected to hold public hearings on the issue as early as May or June.

In the meantime, a coalition of activists led by Anchorage anesthesiologist Russell Biggs has been introducing resolutions against the proposed change to community councils from Tudor Road to Spenard.

In an email, Biggs said he has gathered more than 750 resident comments against the proposal and charged that the city hadn’t done enough to notify residents.

“This resolution bypasses the traditional and historically utilized means available to rezone properties for shelter use and will result in less public engagement and less property owner protection for the most restricted land use in the community,” he wrote.

The city says it has followed all standard notification procedures and that any new shelters would still have to follow the conditional use permit process, the most intense level of scrutiny for new development.

‘So when we consider it, it doesn’t explode’

The change to Title 21 was originally part of a suite of attempts to tackle Anchorage’s homelessness issues considered by the Anchorage Assembly last summer. It was paired with an ordinance that would have allowed the administration of then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to purchase several properties to turn into shelters and a treatment center.

That time, the proposed change skipped over parts of the process, with the justification that an emergency was unfolding.

“It didn’t go through the planning and zoning process,” Rivera said. “It went straight to the Assembly.”

That didn’t go well.

“We heard tremendous opposition from the public,” Rivera said.

Ultimately, the city moved forward with plan to buy the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel in Midtown, where a future drug and alcohol treatment center will be located. The city abandoned a plan to buy a former Alaska Club on Tudor Road in Midtown for use as a day engagement center, and also scrapped plans to house homeless services in a hotel property on Spenard Road.

People were particularly upset about the planning and zoning commission process being skipped, he said. This time, the potential change to Title 21 went through the usual process, which included public outreach and presentations to community councils.

Soon, a draft of an ordinance that would create a licensing framework for potential shelters will also be unveiled, said Christopher Constant, one of the Anchorage Assembly members working on the project along with Meg Zaletel and John Weddleton. That will be a key piece of how the future of shelters in Anchorage might look, because it would create more opportunities for regulating shelters’ performance and responsibilities to the neighborhoods they end up in, Constant said.

“I wouldn’t support (the Title 21 change) if we weren’t doing the licensing piece,” he said. “That would just be re-creating that which we’ve already seen didn’t work that well.”

The two elements “have to be companion, and they have to be credible,” he said.

Berger, the Carousel Lounge owner who brought the issue up with the Spenard Community Council, said he’s OK with the fact that his business neighbors voted against his resolution. He just wanted to get people to pay attention, he said.

“I think it kind of woke people up,” he said.

Rivera hopes the lead-up will lay the groundwork for a different kind of debate. Nobody wants a repeat of last summer, he said.

“If anything this controversial comes up, we need to make sure we are ready for it,” he said.

“So when we consider it, it doesn’t explode, the way that particular one did.”

Raul Castro, 89, retires as head of Cuba’s Communist Party

Fri, 2021-04-16 12:07

Raul Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president, waves to members at the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba's opening session, as Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, applauds at the Convention Palace, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Ariel Ley Royero/ACN via AP) (Ariel Ley Royero/)

HAVANA — Raul Castro said Friday he is resigning as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership by he and his brother Fidel Castro that began with the 1959 revolution.

The 89-year-old Castro made the announcement Friday in a speech at the opening of the Eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

He said he was retiring with the sense of having “fulfilled his mission and confident in the future of the fatherland.”

Castro didn’t say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he previously indicated that he favors yielding control to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018 and is the standard bearer of a younger generation of loyalists who have been pushing an economic opening without touching Cuba’s one-party system.

His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won’t have a Castro formally guilding their affairs, and it comes at a difficult time, with many on the island anxious about what lies ahead.

The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have battered the economy, which shrank 11% last year as a result of a collapse in tourism and remittances. Long food lines and shortages have brought back echoes of the “special period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Discontent has been fueled by the spread of the internet and growing inequality.

Much of the debate inside Cuba is focused on the pace of reform, with many complaining that the so-called “historic generation” represented by Castro has been too slow to open the economy.

In January, Diaz-Canel finally pulled the trigger on a plan approved two congresses ago to unify the island’s dual currency system, giving rise to fears of inflation. He also threw the doors open to a broader range of private enterprise — a category long banned or tightly restricted — permitting Cubans to legally operate many sorts of self-run businesses from their homes.

This year’s congress is expected to focus on unfinished reforms to overhaul state-run enterprises, attract foreign investment and provide more legal protection to private business activities.

The Communist Party is made up of 700,000 activists and is tasked in Cuba’s constitution with directing the affairs of the nation and society.

Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that drove dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959, formally became head of the party in 1965, about four years after officially embracing socialism.

He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the country’s unquestioned leader until falling ill in 2006 and in 2008 handing over the presidency to his younger brother Raul, who had fought alongside him during the revolution.

Raul succeeded him as head of the party in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016


U.S. Seafoods apologizes to Unalaska after COVID-positive crew visited bar in violation of company protocols

Fri, 2021-04-16 11:47

The 240-foot Seafreeze America docked in Captains Bay on Tuesday, April 13. (Hope McKenney/KUCB)

This article originally appeared at KUCB.org and is republished here with permission.

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UNALASKA — A Seattle seafood company issued an apology to Unalaska residents after crew members from one of its vessels, at port in the island community, breached isolation protocols to visit a crowded local bar last weekend.

The resulting widespread exposure forced the city to move from the “medium” to “high” coronavirus risk level after nearly a month and a half at the lower threshold. Dozens of locals who visited the Norwegian Rat Saloon have been asked to quarantine and test for the virus, if they haven’t been vaccinated.

“We are extremely sorry about the events that occurred,” said Dave Wood, U.S. Seafoods’ chief operating officer. “We regret that these individuals made terrible decisions, put a lot of people at risk and harmed a lot of people. We are as outraged as you are.”

U.S. Seafoods officials said they’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened that night, shortly after the F/V Seafreeze America arrived in port.

The 240-foot vessel was fishing for yellowfin sole in the Bering Sea last week when a few of the 51 crew members on board started feeling COVID-19 symptoms. The company tested them on board, and rerouted the boat to Dutch Harbor to confirm the results and be closer to medical care, Wood said.

He said the boat was last in Dutch Harbor in late March when the company brought a group of new crew members on board. By the time they’d boarded, they had tested negative for COVID-19 two separate times, and gone through nearly 20 days of quarantine — though most of the quarantine was what’s known as “self-monitored,” without guards or security personnel ensuring compliance.

“That’s our protocol for 2021,” Wood said. “And it has worked pretty good until this trip.”

Wood said he thinks it’s likely whoever brought the virus onboard picked it up during travel, given the multiple checks in the process. But he can’t be certain.

The boat reached Unalaska on Saturday, about 20 hours after crew members initially developed symptoms. Eight people onboard had tested positive at that point. According to Wood, all eight went immediately to Unalaska’s isolation bunkhouse while the rest of the crew stayed put.

That’s where Wood said the story gets murky.

“We have not been able to complete a thorough investigation,” he said. “We are getting some conflicting stories by those individuals, so that’s something that we’re continuing to try to work through.”

While the details aren’t clear, company and city officials say it appears as many as four of the COVID-positive crew at Unalaska’s isolation facility decided to head to the bar on Saturday, just before midnight.

“Getting an accurate picture on what happened that night on land in Dutch Harbor — it’s been challenging for us,” Wood said. “The other crew on the Seafreeze America needed to be confined to the vessel, so we didn’t have eyes and ears (at the facility).”

Unalaska officials said city staff periodically send a patrol past the isolation facility when it’s being used. But after last weekend’s breach, companies using it will be required to provide their own security.

According to local health officials, initial estimates from video footage indicate as many as 60 people could have been exposed at the Norwegian Rat that night. But some may not have been in close contact long enough to be considered at risk for catching COVID-19, and others may have been vaccinated.

“Some individuals that were exposed — we’re confident they are vaccinated, but many were not, so certainly there is risk,” Melanee Tiura, the chief executive at Unalaska’s clinic, said at a City Council meeting Tuesday. “Where they were sitting and how much distance was around them is helpful, but of course sitting in the same space for a couple of hours — certainly that bubble begins to grow around a person.”

[Southwest Alaska village requires full vaccination for in-person shopping]

As of Tuesday night, contact tracing from the bar was only about 40% complete, Tiura said. It was still too soon after the exposure to begin testing.

The entire Seafreeze America crew was ultimately tested or retested at the local clinic. 26 came back positive. Two are presumed positive but refused retesting, according to Wood.

He said the U.S. Seafoods employees who breached isolation effectively fired themselves.

Violation of the island’s public health mandates is also a misdemeanor: The fishermen could face up to a $500 fine and even prison time.

“We have a strict zero-tolerance policy with regard to alcohol and being disruptive,” he said. “These individuals, whether there’s one, two or three of them, or more, chose to disregard that, and disregard the clear direction from the vessel, the vessel captain, the company and the Dutch Harbor authorities. So on one level, they terminated their employment when they made those poor choices.”

While the majority of COVID-positive crew have been flown on medical charters to Anchorage, the company is still working to figure out what’s next for the boat and the crew still on board.

Company officials are having almost daily calls with state and local officials to make a plan and keep them updated on the health status of remaining crew, according to Matt Upton, an attorney who manages vessel operations for U.S. Seafoods.

Upton said they’re also working to continue vaccinating the Seafreeze America crew. To date, just two of the 51 crew are fully vaccinated and 14 have their first dose. While vaccination numbers are low on the large boat, he said 90% of crew on one of the company’s other vessels has been vaccinated. Upton largely attributes the difference to the greater availability of vaccines when that crew left to fish, but Wood also acknowledged some workers are hesitant about getting the shots.

“It’s no surprise that the seafood processing workforce has some initial reservation to the vaccine,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to educate, answer questions, point them to good resources and get them to understand the importance of it. And I think we’ve made a lot of good progress.”

This is the second major coronavirus outbreak on a U.S. Seafoods vessel since the start of the pandemic. Nearly the entire crew of the trawler Legacy tested positive for the virus in early December while wrapping up their season fishing for Pacific Ocean perch in the Bering Sea.

Infrastructure plan offers hope for Alaska’s economy, workers

Fri, 2021-04-16 09:57

The setting sun illuminates buildings in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

There has been a lot of news coverage in Alaska recently about the Biden administration’s actions related to the oil industry. One might think, based on that coverage, that Alaska’s economy is at risk of being shut down. However, there is much more to the Biden administration’s vision than just its oil policy.

In fact, the $2.3 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure bill can mean great things for Alaska — if we capitalize on it. The plan can bring a massive infusion of capital for states that are proactively preparing for a new economic reality and advocating for the changes needed to realize it. Alaskans should be working hard to position ourselves to ensure we get our fair share of those funds and projects.

The Build Back Better plan is an opportunity to:

• modernize our capital infrastructure including completing the Port of Alaska modernization;

• address the Alaska Marine Highway System’s capital needs;

• begin chipping away at our $2 billion in deferred maintenance needs;

• expand access to renewable energy which saves energy costs and increases energy security — a critical issue in rural Alaska where energy costs are extreme;

• clean up contaminated sites across the state — many left over from World War II;

• expand broadband and other internet access that are critical to health care, education and commerce; and

• build water and sewer infrastructure in rural Alaska, and more.

A revitalized Denali Commission may be a great mechanism for funding many of these projects. It is a trusted entity that has administered federal grants for infrastructure funding in Alaska for more than 20 years. Already closely aligned with the Biden administration’s goals, the Denali Commission was designed by the late Sen. Ted Stevens to provide critical utilities, infrastructure and economic support throughout Alaska.

Forward-thinking Alaskans have already established funding mechanisms that could be employed to advance many of these goals. These include the Renewable Energy Fund, Marine Highway Vessel Replacement Fun, Microloan Program, and others are already established in the state. Other opportunities include capitalizing the Green Bank that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has recently proposed and working with tribes throughout the state to address rural infrastructure needs.

So, let’s not lose sight of the real opportunities that exist for Alaska and Alaskans. With a bit of effort at the federal level, the tangible rewards of this once-in-a-generation level of investment are impossible to overstate. The investments the Biden administration is poised to make can allow Alaska to move into the next phase of economic stability with the same momentum that built the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

If you share my belief in this opportunity, I encourage you to reach out to United States Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young and encourage them to ensure Alaska gets our share of the $2.3 trillion Build Back Better infrastructure package.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz is a third-generation Alaskan who was born in Nebesna, Alaska. She chairs the House Special Committee on Ways and Means and co-chairs the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Spohnholz represents House District 16 in East Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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