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In nearly five decades there’s never been an Anchorage Assembly fight this nasty, say former members

Sun, 2021-10-17 15:11

Anchorage Assembly chambers, July 27, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Many of the men and women who served on the Anchorage Assembly keep a close eye on what’s happening in city politics. And they do not mince words about the current state of affairs.

“It is the most acrimonious that I’ve ever seen,” said Rick Mystrom.

“There was nothing this nasty,” said Bill Faulkner.

“It is totally out of control,” said Heather Flynn. “I’m just appalled by the behavior.”

“The anger and hatred level is kind of over the top,” said Bill Evans.

In interviews with nine past Assembly members, whose time on the body spans from the late 1970s through 2017, there were myriad causes offered for why public meetings have descended into unruly affairs full of insults, interruptions and threats of violence. But everyone agreed it represents a low in the city’s political and civic history.

“It’s downright dangerous”

An ardent conservative on most issues, Fred Dyson represented Eagle River on the Assembly from 1985 to 1991, stepped away to serve in the state Legislature, then did another three-year hitch on the body that wrapped up in 2020.

“There was a congeniality that was not there now,” Dyson said of his earlier terms.

“We could fight like dogs and cats and go out and have a beer or coffee afterwards,” he added.

Dyson said he got along well with his recent colleagues in this latest term and grew to be friends with plenty who had drastically different views from his own. But it wasn’t quite as friendly as the old days, he said.

He recalled bonding with Heather Flynn, who represented downtown Anchorage and was on the opposite side of the political spectrum, when the two took on unscrupulous city bars in the 1980s.

“We became great teammates. Had some very fun and fuzzy visits making field trips,” Dyson recalled.

It was a prickly issue, Dyson said, and as it was playing out he was physically confronted and threatened by some bar owners during a public event. Aside from that, though, it was rare for Assembly business to generate outright hostility and vitriol.

For her part, Flynn characterizes the era in similar terms.

“It was never as bad as it is now,” Flynn said.

Civic activist Heather Flynn, a former member of the Anchorage Assembly, photographed in her home Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Anchorage. Flynn is also a former member of the school board and former director of Alaska Women’s Resource Center and the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

In an interview last week, Flynn was jet-lagged after being out of state for more than two weeks but had closely followed news of the raucous Assembly meetings marked by yellow Stars of David donned by mask opponents, and what she characterized as confrontational, enabling behavior by the Bronson administration.

“Frankly, it embarrasses me,” Flynn said. “I don’t want to be from Alaska anymore. It’s just uncivil, and it’s disrespectful, and it’s downright dangerous.”

People, some wearing a yellow Star of David, wait in line to testify on a proposed mask ordinance during the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Anchorage. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson apologized the next day for his comments supporting some residents' use of Holocaust imagery to liken a proposed citywide mask mandate to the oppression of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth/)

It wasn’t that the Assembly didn’t see arguments, debate and disagreement in the past. She ticked off a number of issues that brought about vigorous, passionate public testimony: fluoridating the city’s water, an early attempt at an equal rights ordinances to protect gay city employees, a municipal ban on pit bulls.

“That was a hot subject,” Flynn said.

But even on measures similar to ones being debated today, disagreement rarely led to divisiveness between members or between neighbors around town. A polio survivor and former middle school teacher, Flynn was instrumental in a push with the schools and health department to require Anchorage students to be immunized after outbreaks of easily preventable illnesses like rubella and measles.

“We reduced communicable disease in this community in a huge part,“ Flynn said. “We brought it to just about zero in the late-70s.”

A man holds a sign that says "RECALL ALL MASKED MEMBERS" during public testimony on the sixth night of public testimony over AO 2021-91, the proposed mask mandate, at the Anchorage Assembly on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

She said those who might have disagreed grumbled over the mandate but complied. That’s partly what makes her so shocked that a relatively innocuous health measure over wearing a mask in public settings has become such a lightning rod. She blames a lot of the behavior on the national political style ushered in by former President Donald Trump.

“He encourages name-calling and shouting and sign-waving,” Flynn said. “I think that encourages the same kind of behavior right at our Assembly meetings.”

“I guess Bronson is one of his acolytes,” she added.

People attending the Anchorage Assembly meeting applaud Mayor Dave Bronson while he was stating his opposition to the proposed mask ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

“There’s a loss of decorum,” said Bill Faulkner, who represented West Anchorage on the Assembly from 1985 to 1995, and was a relative moderate. He pointed to Trump for what he described as the normalization of “childish behavior” in local political matters.

“This was beyond anything we dealt with,” Faulkner said. “To do this you have to have enablers.”

“There was decorum”

Another unprecedented factor that several past members cited is the body’s current make-up: it is more solidly liberal than anyone can recall since the city and borough were unified into the Municipality of Anchorage in 1975.

Though technically non-partisan, the Assembly tends to cleave into conservative and liberal blocks, particularly when controversial topics crop up. In early Assemblies, majorities consisted of just one or two extra members over the opposing camp, which forced compromise and cooperation in order for measures to pass.

For the last several years, though, moderate-liberal and progressive candidates have been more successful in Assembly elections than their conservative challengers. That has translated into an effective block of seven to nine aligned votes on the 11-person body, with only the two conservative members from Eagle River consistently opposing their colleagues.

“When I was on the Assembly, there was a pretty even split between liberals and conservatives,” said Rick Mystrom. “I was the moderate.”

Mystrom represented West Anchorage from 1979 to 1985, then served two terms as mayor from 1994 to 2000.

“I don’t think I’ve seen one this liberal,” he said of the current Assembly make-up. Nor, he said, has he ever seen one conservative enough that it could consistently count on wrangling eight or nine votes.

That large majority contributed to a relatively frictionless relationship with the previous administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, with whom many members shared similar political priorities.

That is not the case with Mayor Dave Bronson, who campaigned in opposition to Assembly policies on the pandemic and homelessness, and won by a razor-thin margin in the runoff election against current East Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar. What was, up until recently, consistent alignment between the city’s legislative and executive branches has come to resemble a hammer clanging against an anvil.

From left, Assembly Member Felix Rivera, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski, and Mayor Dave Bronson during the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

One precedent for this level of disharmony between the Assembly and mayor’s office is the tenure of Tom Fink, the staunch conservative who served two terms as mayor from 1987 to 1994.

“Mayor Fink was pretty strong in his opinions,” Mystrom said. “I think there were times, actually, he had more vetoes than any other mayor.”

Bill Faulkner was on the Assembly during the Fink administration, and said even amid vigorous disagreements on topics like naming the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and extending employment protections to gay residents, the political climate never came close to what he’s observed in the recent mask debate.

“There was decorum,” Faulkner said.

Tension between the administration and Assembly, he said, was overblown in the press.

“It was hyped up because of the newspaper wars,” Faulkner said, referring to the battle for circulation supremacy between the Anchorage Daily News and Anchorage Times, whose editorial boards often represented opposing sides of the political spectrum.

But the work was pragmatic, and political theater from members was not tolerated. In Faulkner’s first term, with municipal revenues cratering from the collapse in oil prices, the body had to chop tens of millions out of the city’s operating budget.

“Everybody had to pony up,” Faulkner recalled. “There were no salvos being fired back and forth.”

“There’s just a divide”

Skirmishes in the Assembly were intensifying before the current spasm of discord and disobedience began last summer, when crowds started demanding city leaders abandon lock-down measures, then organizing on increasingly strident Facebook groups into what’s become a diffuse opposition movement rallying against masks and seeking to recall sitting members.

But the temperature’s been rising in local politics for more than a decade.

From 2008 to 2017, Patrick Flynn represented the same downtown seat once held by his mother, and early in his first term began getting visits from local Tea Party activists.

“They would show up at Assembly meetings, groups of them, and talk to us,” Flynn said. “They weren’t particularly obstreperous, but they would show up in their patriotic regalia and talk to us about the evil of government spending.”

The activists were not there about a particular piece of legislation, according to Flynn, but were politically engaging with the Assembly because that was the government entity that was locally available, even though the body’s main function is passing a budget for local services like policing, snow plowing and trail maintenance.

“There’s just a divide,” said Dick Traini, who maneuvered through term-limit loopholes to serve a cumulative 19 years on the body, and still watches every single meeting.

“My wife will tell you I’m addicted to it,” Traini said.

One of the reasons Traini believes the mask ordinance got so wild was that the Assembly members lost control of the meetings, a point echoed by several other prior members.

“I never would have let it get like this,” said Traini, who spent a total of 12 years as chair of the body. A maximalist when it comes to allowing public testimony, Traini disagreed with efforts to limit input from residents, but said he would have insisted on more decorum in the chamber from the outset. “It takes a long time to get control back.”

The major battles during his tenure include the 2009 vote over an equal rights ordinance that saw protracted public testimony from red shirt-wearing opponents, many of whom were bused into meetings from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Traini said, and blue shirt-wearing supporters. Some political veterans of the era refer to it as “the summer of hate” because of how vitriolic the testimony was. The Assembly passed the measure, but not with enough votes to override a veto issued by then-Mayor Dan Sullivan once he arrived in office.

An overflow crowd of hundreds of union supporters gathered outside the Loussac Library as they turned out in protest of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan's proposed rewrite of the municipality labor law. The assembly chamber was filled, the hallway was filled and hundreds more people gathered outside on Feb. 12. 2013 at the Loussac Library. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive) (Bob Hallinen/)

Then came AO-37, an extended fight over labor contracts with public service employees that led to weeks of heated debate, and enough threats made against elected officials that there was a sizable contingent of police staged in the Loussac Library building when members voted on it.

“They did have a lot of officers there,” Traini said.

In 2015, an updated version of the equal rights ordinance was back in front of the Assembly, along with the red shirts on opponents. As in 2009, it passed the body, but this time with a veto-proof majority -- a moot point, since Berkowitz was by then in office and supported the extended protections.

The only members who voted against that ordinance were Eagle River’s Bill Starr and Amy Demboski, who now serves as municipal manager in the Bronson administration.

Addressing the crowd the night the measure passed, Demboski described it as “the tyranny of the Anchorage Assembly.”

That ordinance was introduced by Flynn and conservative South Anchorage Assembly member Bill Evans, who served a single term before opting not to run again in 2017, and unsuccessfully campaigning for mayor against Bronson and a field of other candidates in the last election.

“People just didn’t behave this way before,” Evans said of mask opponents during recent meetings. “You don’t have to allow abuse in order to confirm that it’s a valid government action.”

“There’s a certain level of civility and respect that has to take place in any sort of government process, any kind of public meeting like that,” Evans said.

Assemblymen Dan Coffey, left, and Dick Traini confer as passage of the no-smoking ordinance appears imminent Tuesday evening August 15, 2006 in Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library. The two were original sponsors of the legislation. (Erik Hill / ADN archive) (Erik Hill/)

He faulted Assembly leadership for losing control of the meetings but lays most of the blame at the conduct and tactics of the Bronson administration, particularly recent incidents like demanding a plastic COVID-19 barrier be carried off and dismissing security guards from the chamber.

“It seems to me the act of a petulant child just trying to make a point, like throwing a tantrum. It’s not designed to bring people together or reach resolution,” Evans said of gestures that he believes played more to the disruptive crowd than anything else. “It’s bad government and it’s appalling.”

His biggest source of disappointment with the recent turmoil is that it sucked up time and energy that could have been applied to the long list of challenges facing the municipality: homelessness, decreased investment, the fast-approaching process of proposing, amending and passing a balanced budget. Instead, Evans said, huge amounts of time and resources have been spent over a public health proposal that has spiraled into a political battle.

“It’s not a city that exhibits confidence,” he said. “We’re just harming the city by the way we’re behaving publicly.”

Anchorage woman dies in head-on collision on Parks Highway, troopers say

Sun, 2021-10-17 14:00

An Anchorage woman died Saturday night and a Wasilla man was seriously injured in a head-on collision on the Parks Highway near Houston, Alaska State Troopers said.

Melissa Joy Labriola, 38, was southbound in a 2009 four-door car when it crossed the center line of the highway near Mile 50 just before 8:30 p.m. and struck a 2002 Chevrolet pickup driven by 35-year-old Gary Alan James Jr., troopers wrote in an online statement.

Labriola died at the scene and troopers said James was brought to a hospital in serious condition.

“Traffic was re-routed to the recently paved southbound divided lanes,” troopers wrote.

The investigation is ongoing, troopers said.

No expense was too great when royalty came to Alaska in 1967. Then the king of Nepal skipped out on the bill.

Sun, 2021-10-17 13:47

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

Anchorage has been visited by a surprising number of foreign royalty, even if most of their stays were brief. Some of the notables include the newlywed Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko of Japan, who paid $50 for some ivory carvings at a gift shop during an hour and a half layover in 1960. Four years later, King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium spent the night at Elmendorf Air Force Base, a respite from their lengthy travels from Europe to Tokyo. They also had enough time for a downtown helicopter tour.

In 1975, King Olav V of Norway visited Anchorage. Forty years later, his son, King Harald V, visited Anchorage and Homer, thus becoming the first reigning monarch to see the latter.

After the 1970 world’s fair in Osaka, Japan, Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, devoted an over-scheduled hour to Anchorage while on his way home. Despite the limited time, he fit in a downtown tour and a stroll in Elderberry Park with Anchorage Mayor George Sullivan. Prince Charles was then the heir to the British throne. More than 50 years later, he still is, thanks to his mother’s legendary longevity. The queen herself stopped here in 1975, also on her way home from Japan. However, she did not leave the aircraft’s royal bedchamber.

The most historic royal visit to Anchorage came on September 26, 1971. Emperor Hirohito of Japan met President Richard Nixon in an Elmendorf hanger. For Hirohito, the relatively short stop was the first stage of a global tour. Yet, the occasion was also momentous, the first time a Japanese monarch had ever set foot outside Japan.

And then there was the King of Nepal, Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. Nepal is a comparatively small Asian nation nestled between China and India. It is best known for Mount Everest, which lies on the border between Nepal and China. In 1967, King Mahendra and his wife, Queen Ratna, visited the United States. There were some work aspects to the trip, including a meeting with President Lyndon Johnson. But the real goal was hunting.

1957 portrait of King Mahendra and Queen Ratna of Nepal. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Mahendra ascended to the throne in 1956 after the death of his father, King Tribhuvan. The most significant point of his reign came in 1960 when he orchestrated a coup that eliminated political parties only a year after the first democratic elections in the nation’s history. The new politicians had immediately set about reforming the country in ways that threatened the social and economic standing of the pre-existing elite, of which the king was naturally a member. So, the new politicians had to go. In other words, Mahendra was not known for his character even before his Alaska adventure.

From Washington, D.C., Mahendra flew to Alaska aboard Air Force One at an estimated cost of $50,000 ($406,000 in 2021 dollars), a burden borne entirely by American taxpayers. This uncompensated and unrequited largesse set the tone for the king’s time in Alaska.

Mahendra and his retinue arrived in Anchorage on November 9, 1967. Nepali flags, donated by the State Department, flew alongside American flags around the city hall block for the duration of his stay. A procession of black limousines ferried the king and queen around town, including to the Hotel Captain Cook, which operated as their home base. The Anchorage Daily Times opined, “There could hardly be a better promotional effort by the state than to have the king here.”

Though the royals spent about three weeks in Alaska, they only planned for four days in Anchorage. Shortly after arriving, they were off hunting, accompanied by Al Burnett, their primary guide. Chosen from a list carefully crafted by a team of federal agencies, Burnett, a tall and lean Navy veteran, towered over the slightly pudgy monarch. The State Department spent days training the guide on the necessary protocol, including Hindu taboos, dietary restrictions, and a “thousand other things.”

Apart from etiquette, Burnett was faced with a mountain of more basic, logistical problems. The timing of the visit, so late in the year, increased the risk of nasty weather. In addition, the king provided a lengthy list of desired trophies, including two each of Kodiak bears, sea lions, moose, wolves, walrus, mountain sheep, goats, black bears, grizzlies, elk and musk ox. That wish list contained several apparent conflicts in seasonal availability and legality. The State Department, eager to impress a head of state with the majesty of the United States, overrode every complaint.

While the federal and state agencies bent over backward to accommodate Mahendra — a complimentary hunting license was issued — Burnett negotiated with the Nepali Embassy on payment. They agreed that Burnett, as the primary architect of the itinerary, would cover all direct and indirect costs of the expedition. In return, he would receive costs plus 15% and a $5,000 bonus ($40,600 in 2021) if the experience was “reasonably successful.”

While the press described the king and queen as accomplished hunters, the reality was quite a bit more complicated. The frustrated Burnett explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1969, “They’re used to hunting in a different way, used to waiting in a comfortable machan or on the backs of elephants for their shikaris to drive game to them. The elephants and drivers go in months in advance and drive game into a tight circle. Then Their Majesties fly in by ‘copter and take the best of them.” Alaska-style hunting, this was not.

The king was also physically limited. Per Burnett, “His eyesight is poor... so he doesn’t spot game easily. He’s the kind of hunter you take out there and get him real close and say, ‘OK — shoot.’”

The royals had indeed killed tigers in Nepal, tigers that were paraded in front of them. In that way, Queen Ratna indeed killed a bear in Alaska, but from a Department of the Interior plane that landed on top of the corpse. Said Burnett, “It isn’t legal to spot [bears] from a plane or make any use of planes in the hunt. Well, that’s all we done.”

Burnett was in a jam. On one side, there were the royals who expected their trophies regardless of laws. And on the other side were the American officials who insisted that the royals be kept happy. And so, Burnett largely gave up on rules. Planes were used extensively. Game was killed in closed areas, including an illegal if unsuccessful wolf hunt near Talkeetna.

They also hunted on Kodiak, in the Alaska Peninsula and near Lake George. As Burnett feared, storms prevented them from completing Mahendra’s trophy checklist. Still, the royals did take home trophies from moose, caribou, mountain goat and two bears.

However, there is no such thing as a quiet Nepali royal hunting expedition in Alaska. Complaints gathered and finally began to awaken politicians to both the broken laws and the money spent on a foreign national.

Meanwhile, the costs continued to rise, most of which were signed for by Burnett. The more extravagant purchases included $80 dinner table flower arrangements and $96 purple bananas from Hawaii. The royals had money. An attendant followed them on their shopping excursions with a bag filled with traveler’s checks. Yet, the far majority of the spending went on the mounting tab.

Finally, on November 30, 1967, the king, queen and entourage left Alaska to begin their long trip home. By then, the pomp had declined. Instead of limos, they rode to the airport in Air Force sedans. Instead of Air Force One, they took a commercial Western Airlines flight to Seattle.

Burnett soon presented an itemized bill for more than $60,000 (about $485,500 in 2021) to the Nepali Embassy. It was rejected. Burnett cut his profits and returned with a new $45,000 invoice. Despite public promises from embassy officials, no payment came. The delay turned into silence. Burnett did not get his money, which meant hundreds of other Alaskans also were not paid.

Kodiak Mayor Pete Deveau said, “Everybody here knocked themselves out for (King Mahendra), and then he doesn’t pay his bills.” Hans Beckerwerth, general manager of Hickel Hotels, which included the Captain Cook Hotel, was blunter. “We’ve been had,” he declared.

The impact upon Burnett is best described by the man himself, again from the lengthy 1969 Los Angeles Times coverage. “I couldn’t pay an attorney, couldn’t buy a plane ticket or even pay my long-distance phone bill,” said Burnett in the dismal aftermath. “Nine years of work and about a $60,000 investment in my guide territory were swept away. I’d lost my plane — couldn’t keep up the payments — lost my boats and engines, even a collection of [Alaska Native] artifacts I had. My bank account, what there was of it, was grabbed and guide fees put in escrow as fast as I earned them. My credit got so bad I couldn’t lay in groceries to feed my hunters.”

He continued, “I’ve still got more than $20,000 I’m personally responsible for, and I’ll pay it if it takes me the rest of my life. Lots of creditors were willing to take half and forget it, but others are still suing me.”

With the Nepali royals back in Nepal, the State Department informed Burnett that the bill was his problem. By 1968, various Congressman asked for action on the debacle, and Burnett was the only one available to be punished. In January 1969, his guide license was revoked. It was clear that the king would have left Alaska without any trophies if they had followed all laws and regulations.

Despite everything, Burnett claimed he had no lingering animosity towards the monarchs. As far as he was concerned, Mahendra was “a real nice little guy.” “They’re cushioned from everything that goes on around them,” explained Burnett, “spending their evenings playing some sort of card game and poring over wish books — mail order catalogs. As far as they were concerned, it was a real good hunt.”

Burnett spent some time as a carpenter in the Lower 48 before returning to Alaska as a bush pilot. King Mahendra suffered a fatal heart attack in 1972, coincidentally while hunting. He died still owing his roughly 100 Alaskan creditors. His 1967 visit to Alaska left a trail of wreckage in its wake and was certainly the worst royal visit to this state. His last communication with Burnett was a note in the mail. All it said was “Happy New Year.”

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Key sources:

Armstrong, Michael. “Norwegian King Scheduled to Visit Homer Next Week.” Homer News, May 22, 2015,

Brennan, Tom. “King and Queen Leave After Alaska Hunt.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 30, 1967, 1.

Brennan, Tom. “King of Nepal Chose Burnett from List of 16 Alaska Guides.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 8, 1967, 1, 2.

Connelly, Dolly. “The Animal Now is a Trophy of the King of Nepal. The Guide Now is a Trophy of Government Bureaucracy.” West [Los Angeles Times insert], April 6, 1969, 8-13.

Gross, Dan. “Death of King of Nepal Leaves Bite in Pockets.” Anchorage Daily News, February 2, 1972, 2.

Hutt, Michael. “King Gyanendra’s Coup and its Implications for Nepal’s Future.” Brown Journal of World Affairs 12, no. 1 (2005): 111-123.

“King Olav’s Visit Will Top Those of Yesteryear.” Anchorage Daily Times, October 25, 1975, 11.

“A Royal Welcome.” Anchorage Daily Times, November 9, 1967, 4.

Gara is the best choice for Alaska’s students and educators

Sun, 2021-10-17 11:21

iStock / Getty Images (Pornpak Khunatorn/)

Living in a resource-rich state such as Alaska is a privilege. Developing these resources is of utmost importance as we, the residents of Alaska, look to the future. Our children are one of those precious resources, and I am honored to be a 20-plus-year educator with the Anchorage School District teaching our youth. It is incumbent upon us, the adults and electorate, to ensure this resource is not overlooked. One of the steps to ensure the development of this resource is electing Les Gara as the next governor of our great state.

Gara has already proven his commitment to Alaska’s youth during his time in the state Legislature. He not only talks the talk, he puts his words into action. The most recent funding increase for Alaska’s public education came in a bill passed by the State House in 2018. Through the hard work to reach a compromise, which was spearheaded by Gara, this bill made way for negotiation of a two-year budget increase, allowing Alaska’s schools to keep up with inflation in 2019 and 2020. A study published in 2020 reaffirmed prior published evidence validating the stance that exposure to publicly funded early childhood education, such as voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, provides students a solid foundation for school readiness and narrowing achievement gaps. Gara has pushed for smaller class sizes and a voluntary pre-K program throughout the state, demonstrating his dedication to Alaska’s children and their education.

Beyond being a strong voice for education, Gara has also been a consistent advocate for youth in the foster care system. He understands firsthand the positive, healthy environment children need in which to grow and thrive. Having experienced the foster care system as a child, Gara knows the benefit of supporting students outside of the classroom goes a long way in ensuring the desired outcomes in the classroom. During his tenure in the Alaska State House from 2003 to 2019, he worked tirelessly to see that our children have the best start to a successful life that will benefit Alaska as a whole.

What have we seen from the current administration? As a state senator, Gov. Mike Dunleavy pushed for deep cuts in public education funding every year, which necessitated the State House blocking those cuts. Dunleavy’s first budget proposed a cut of more than $269 million in funds for public education. Neither of these actions demonstrate past and current leadership’s desire to develop our children and their education.

Alaska needs a governor who will act in the best interests of our children. A governor who will promote the education of our children that will help ensure Alaska graduates students who are college-, career-, and life-ready. These children are the future leaders of our state. Their academic, career and social-emotional development needs to happen now, when they are young, so when they become adults, our children will be able to and want to continue to make Alaska a better place. Alaska’s children need Les Gara as the next governor.

Jessica Cook, M.S.Ed., is a sixth grade teacher in the Anchorage School District.

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) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Why the ‘free market’ isn’t best for customers when it comes to prescription drugs

Sun, 2021-10-17 10:29


I find myself inspired to write by Mr. Robert Coulter’s recent commentary on prescription drugs and Medicare Part D. Mr. Coulter describes himself as a free-market activist who focuses on protecting the interest of mature Americans. Let’s presume that is true. Then I would say that his oversimplified commentary on Medicare Part D portrays a lack of understanding on how drug prices have gotten to where they are today.

To condense Mr. Coulter’s commentary to a few words, “Drug companies are good and charge fair prices; government attempts to negotiate drug prices are bad.” First, there is the idea that the negotiating arena is “reserved for bilateral transactions between drug manufacturers and insurers.” I would note that both drug manufacturers and insurers are in the business to make money, and both will charge what the market will bear. Doubtless insurers and drug company lobbyists had some input on this portion of the law.

One of the most interesting determiners of medication costs is the impact of pharmacy benefit managers, i.e., CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, and Optum RX. These companies negotiate with drug manufacturers for a fee to get insurers to allow drugs to be placed on a list of drugs the insurer will cover — the “formulary.” The drug company sells a drug to a pharmacy at a price. The cash price is inflated to be sure that a discount negotiated by the pharmacy benefit manager for an insurance company will still allow the desired profit. In other industries, this fee to the pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM, would be an illegal kickback, but an exception was made by Congress. Can we say lobbyists?

So this is how the process looks. Drug company makes a drug for a certain cost — call it $. Price is listed as $$$. The PBM negotiates with the insurance company to get the drug on the formulary and receives $ in its legal kickback, and the insurance company gets a “price break” and will cover the drug at the price of $$ so the drug company can still get a profit.

Medicare Part D is certainly a decent benefit, but far from perfect. A senior choses between multiple plans depending on what medications the plan covers. The plan is free to change its list of covered medications from year to year, and the senior’s medications can be changed at any time based on health requirements. In my practice, I can’t tell you how many seniors expressed utter confusion on how to choose which program.

Then there is that same old claim that medication costs reflect the cost of research by pharmaceutical companies. No mention is made of the vast amount of research done by publicly funded agencies provided to drug companies. The public does not get any portion of the profits from the drug manufacturer from this research.

There are many tricks used by drug companies to up their profits. Let’s look at three famous examples. EpiPens are epinephrine delivery devices used to treat anaphylactic shock — severe, life-threatening reactions — and severe asthma attacks. The drug is decades old; the delivery system is patented. At a point when there was one company controlling the patent, the cost for two injection devices skyrocketed. Currently, the cost is more than $600. This is for a drug that may save a child’s life from a peanut allergy reaction and has to be purchased again if the expiration date has passed. Now there are different delivery systems that cost “only” $400. If purchased with a GoodRx card they may cost “only” $150.

Of course, there is nothing that precludes Drug Company A, which makes a brand name product, from buying Drug Company B, which makes the generic equivalent of the same medication, so that they can increase the price of the generic from $$ to $$$$ compared to brand-name cost $$$$$$.

That has happened. Colchicine is a medication that has been around for decades, and used to cost less than 30 cents per pill. A drug company did less than a month of research, applied for FDA approval, and received a new patent for what had been generic for years, and the price was increased to more than $4 a pill. Competing manufacturers were no longer allowed to make the drug because of the new patent.

Some years ago, drug companies were required to change the propellant in their inhalers. This allowed them all to market under a new patent, and prices rose tremendously. The medications were the same, just the propellant had to change. A price of more than $300 a month for one inhaler is not rare. Imagine needing more than one. Fortunately, now generics are available again.

Here’s a bonus example: A drug company combines two blood pressure medications together in one tablet and patents this medication and sells it for a new high price. The medications have been prescribed together for decades. The new combo tablet is marketed to patients and providers, and gets a market share at a price far higher than the two older generics that have been around for ages. Shame on us for being suckered into this.

Why does a commentary like Mr. Coulter’s get me to rave on so? Because I was a primary care physician for 35 years and saw plenty of elderly ladies who could not afford an inhaler so they could breath a little better, plenty of diabetics who rationed or simply skipped taking their insulin because of the cost, plenty of people with hypertension whose lives were shortened because they could not afford their medication.

Am I in favor of the federal government having power to negotiate drug prices? You bet I am. I’m not trusting the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers to cooperate in a way that lowers medication prices out of the goodness of their hearts. They believe in a free-market policy. They believe in charging what the market will bear.

Nell Loftin, M.D., worked as a primary care physician for 35 years. She lives in 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) Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Adele’s new single ‘Easy on Me’ shatters Spotify, Amazon Music records

Sun, 2021-10-17 09:47

Adele poses in 2017 with the awards for album of the year for "25", song of the year for "Hello", record of the year for "Hello", best pop solo performance for "Hello", and best pop vocal album for "25" at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. She announced on Instagram that her “30” album will come out November 19. A new single, ‘Easy on Me,’ was released on Friday.(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File) (Chris Pizzello/)

LONDON - Six years since the release of her last album, Adele is back - and within just 24 hours she shattered records.

Streaming service Spotify announced this weekend that the British singer’s new single “Easy on Me,” which was released Friday, broke a new record for the most streams in a single day.

“On Friday, October 15th, Adele’s Easy On Me became Spotify’s most-streamed song in a single day,” the audio company wrote on social media as fans celebrated the star’s record-breaking comeback.

Amazon Music on Saturday announced that the single had received “the most first-day Alexa song requests in Amazon Music history.”

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The single is taken from her highly anticipated album “30,” which is set to be released on Nov. 19. Her previous album, “25,” which was released in 2015, had the highest first week sales in U.S. album chart history - and included the hit “Hello,” which became the fastest video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube.

While Spotify did not divulge a precise figure of how many people listened on release day, “Easy on Me” stole the crown from K-pop boyband BTS which had held the top spot for most streams in one day for their single “Butter,” released in May 2021. According to Billboard, Spotify currently reaches 365 million monthly active users.

On social media, many Adele fans used the comments section of Spotify’s Instagram announcement to confess that they helped drive up the tally.

“Half of them were from me,” joked one user, while another branded the 33-year-old British musician as “unstoppable.”

The star’s albums - “19,″ “21,” “25,” and now “30″ - are all named after the age she was at the time of writing her music.

“I’m ready to finally put this album out,” the singer wrote in an Instagram post last week, adding that the new music had been her “ride or die throughout the most turbulent period of my life.”

It has indeed been a tumultuous few years for the star, who has been navigating her divorce from Simon Konecki, with whom she has a 9-year-old son, Angelo.

In 2019, the pair announced their split.

In a recent interview with British Vogue, Adele opened up about the divorce and its impact on her son. “My son has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for. (like) ‘Why can’t you still live together?’” she told journalist Giles Hattersley, adding that she struggled with anxiety as her marriage broke down.

“I definitely learnt a lot of tools in my therapy, but I also just go with it,” she said. “I find the anxiety gets worse when you try and get rid of it.”

During an Instagram Live with fans last week, the star was asked what the new album was about. Adele replied, “divorce babe, divorce.”

Strikes are sweeping the labor market as workers wield new leverage

Sun, 2021-10-17 08:23

Union workers participate in a strike against Kellogg Co. on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 in Battle Creek, Mich. (Alyssa Keown/Battle Creek Enquirer via AP) (Alyssa Keown/)

Marcial Reyes could have just quit his job. Frustrated with chronic understaffing at the Kaiser Permanente hospital where he works in Southern California, he knows he has options in a region desperate for nurses.

Instead, he voted to go on strike.

While Americans are leaving their jobs at staggering rates - a record 4.3 million quit in August alone - hundreds of thousands of workers with similar grievances about pay, benefits and quality of life are, like Reyes, choosing to dig in and fight. Last week, 10,000 John Deere workers went on strike, while unions representing 31,000 Kaiser employees and 60,000 film and television production workers authorized walkouts. Film and TV workers reached a deal with producers Saturday night to avert a strike hours before a negotiating deadline.

All told, there have been strikes against 178 employers this year, according to a tracker by Cornell University’s School of Industrial Labor Relations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which records only large work stoppages, has documented 12 strikes involving 1,000 or more workers. That’s a significant jump from 2020, when the pandemic took hold, but in line with significant strike activity in 2019 and 2018, bureau data show.

The trend, union officials and economists say, is an offshoot of the phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, which has thinned the nation’s labor pool and slowed the economic recovery. Workers are harder to replace and many companies are scrambling to manage hobbled supply chains and meet pandemic-fueled demand for their products. That has given unions new leverage, and made striking less risky.

In interviews, workers and labor leaders said union members are angry with employers for failing to raise pay to match new profits and are disappointed by the lack of high-quality jobs. They also are frustrated that wage growth is not keeping pace with inflation. Although the average U.S. worker’s hourly pay was up 4% in September compared with a year ago, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, inflation grew 5.4% over the same period.

“The strikes are sending a signal, no doubt about it, that employers ignore workers at their peril,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I think this wave of strikes is actually going to inspire more workers to stand up and speak out and put that line in the sand and say, ‘We deserve better.’ "

Not all work stoppages have been successful. More than 1,000 Alabama miners have been on strike at Warrior Met Coal since April. That same month, 14 oil workers staged a walkout against United Metro Energy in New York; eight have since been fired, according to the local Teamsters branch. And roughly 1,400 workers at Kellogg cereal factories in four states are entering their third week on the picket line.

Meanwhile, the tight job market and rising inflation threaten to stunt workers’ growing power, experts say.

Still, the labor movement has drawn support from the White House. President Joe Biden made a public statement supporting the Amazon union drive in Alabama - a rare move by a sitting president. And his constant calls to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour have delighted labor leaders.

In Fontana, Calif., Reyes is hopeful. As a covid-19 patient who spent a month in the same Kaiser hospital where he works, he has a unique perspective on pandemic-related staffing shortages.

“I think I got the best care that I could have gotten at Kaiser,” he said. “Now it’s time to pay back the nurses that took care of me” by striking for additional resources.

The strike drives in 2021 run the gamut of American industry: Nurses and health workers in California and Oregon; oil workers in New York; cereal factory workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee; television and film production crews in Hollywood; and more.

The surge in strike activity has yielded mixed results, economists say. Although strikes this summer at Nabisco and Frito-Lay helped lead to higher raises and new vacation allowances, employers have not made meaningful increases in their workforces or compensation structures.

Both sides acknowledge the mutual benefit of retaining workers. Management often would rather contend with a brief strike than the higher costs associated with turnover and training new staff. For the employee, a new job isn’t necessarily a better one.

“There’s a cost to searching and a cost to leaving your current employer,” said William M. Rodgers III, director of the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “And maybe some of the desire to strike is predicated out of a level of loyalty that these people have been with this company for a good duration.”

Unions increasingly are focusing on workplace conditions and corporate culture in negotiations. Some strike drives are pushing for better safeguards against sexual harassment and coronavirus safety protocols, including one at El Milagro, a Chicago-based tortilla manufacturer. Workers at a West Virginia-producer of industrial pump parts went on strike Oct. 1 seeking better seniority rights.

Some are attempting to claw back perks that vanished years ago during economic downturns. Striking John Deere workers contend that the company’s massive profit during the pandemic - earnings nearly doubled to a record $1.79 billion last quarter - should be reflected in their compensation packages, particularly retirement benefits.

More than 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents Hollywood production workers, want more time allotted for bathroom and meal breaks, as well as a larger slice of studio profit from streaming audiences. They planned to strike Monday unless they reached a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The two sides arrived at a tentative agreement Saturday night that guarantees production workers meal breaks, weekends and breaks between shifts, plus significant raises.

“They do have to change the way they do business,” IATSE President Matthew D. Loeb said, “to avoid a strike, to have good morale and to have safe, healthy employees.”

A spokesman for the television and film producers alliance did not respond to a request for comment.

In New York, Andre Soleyn, a striking oil terminal operator with Union Metro Energy, said he and co-workers considered looking for other jobs before walking out in April. Other businesses in the industry pay higher starting salaries, he said, up to $8 an hour more than what his co-workers make on average, according to the local Teamsters branch.

Labor leaders have defined such demands as a new frontier for workers’ rights. Unions helped deliver the 40-hour workweek, they note, and the coronavirus crisis has reinforced the need to secure living wages and safer workplaces.

“Especially during the pandemic, where people have worked overtime, they’ve sacrificed. They want to be acknowledged and appreciated,” Shuler said.

Workers took notice when their companies publicly praised them as heroic and essential in the early days of pandemic, labor leaders and experts say, and it made them angry.

Many saw a disconnect between the accolades and the realities of their jobs, and now interpret “essential” more broadly: They’re not only crucial to helping put food on families’ tables or treating patients, they’re essential to very companies they serve - and can inflict pain by shutting down or slowing operations.

“A strike is really the last resort. That’s labor’s power, a worker’s power is to withhold their labor,” said Kim Cordova, president of the Colorado branch of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. “A company can function without a CEO, but they can’t function without the workers to actually go do the work.”

The movement also speaks to workers rethinking expectations. Kaiser Permanente hospitals already faced a shortage of workers before covid-19, said Reyes, a member of the United Nurses Associations of California.

Then came the crush of coronavirus patients; Reyes was one of them.

He spent a month in the hospital where he worked - including 11 days intubated. When he was discharged, he begged his doctor to allow him to go back to work, eager to help his colleagues handle the new workload. He took videos of himself doing physical therapy and sent them to his doctor every day to prove he was well enough to return.

“My promise was, I’m going to get better fast,” he said. “I want to get back to work quick. I want to fight covid with the same people who fought covid for me. I want to care for our patients with them.”

Yet, a year later, he voted to strike. He says Kaiser’s planned two-tier wage and benefits proposal that would put new employees at the lower end would make it harder to hire nurses. He’s also worried the company will seek more cutbacks in the future.

Arlene Peasnall, Kaiser’s senior vice president of human resources, said in an emailed statement that the company is proposing the new pay scale because its labor costs are “unsustainable.”

Because Kaiser negotiates with a national alliance of unions, wages are not regionally adjusted, she said, meaning health workers in some areas earn well above market averages.

“Affordability is a real issue in health care, which was highlighted once again during the pandemic,” she said. “... We are trying to be available to more people, and we cannot do that if we are too expensive.”

In New York, Andre Soleyn, a striking oil terminal operator, said he and his Union Metro Energy co-workers considered looking for other jobs before walking out in April. Industry rivals pay higher starting salaries, as much as $8 an hour more, according to the local Teamsters branch.

But getting a new job, especially with such a specific skill set, is more difficult than it sounds, Soleyn said. Other employers nearby have unionized workforces, so their retention rates are higher and jobs are harder to come by. Starting at a new company means potentially taking a more junior position and more difficult shift schedules.

There’s also a sense of camaraderie, Soleyn said, among the striking workers. Eight strike organizers, union officials said, were fired from their jobs when they walked out. The Teamsters filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board over their terminations. United Metro Energy, its parent company Red Apple Group and owner John Catsimatidis did not respond to requests for comment.

“I felt shellshocked in the beginning,” Soleyn said, “but then when I sat down for a little bit and thought about it, I realized they were trying to attack me, because they knew I was one of the guys that was spearheading it and trying to make this place a better place to work. That gave me more resolve that I am on the right track, I am doing something right.”

At Kellogg’s cereal factory in Omaha, employees worked forced overtime during the pandemic to keep up with voracious consumer demand, said Dan Osborn, a mechanic at the plant for 18 years and president of the local Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union branch.

Workers say they are responsible for the $1.8 billion in operating profit the company made in the past four quarters. They worked the hours during a pandemic in the expectation, Osborn said, that Kellogg’s would not demand more concession during contract negotiations. Instead, the company pitched a new two-tiered wage and benefits system and refused their requests for raises, he said.

Kellogg’s spokesperson Kris Bahner said in a statement that under the company’s six-year proposal, employees “would achieve a wage rate of about $35.00/hour” and the new contract would “not only maintain these industry-leading pay and benefits, but offer significant increases in wages, benefits and retirement.”

The company brought in contract labor to restart the Omaha plant last Monday. Osborn said his family and those of other strikers expect they could go weeks without a paycheck.

His wife is searching for another job. He sold one of the family’s cars and is preparing to sell off his childhood baseball card collection. His 13-year-old daughter takes dance lessons, he said. She came up to him one night after dinner and told him that she couldn’t bear to give them up.

“It makes me want to cry a little bit,” he said. “I told her, ‘No matter what, you’re going to be able to dance.’ "

The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.

Nearly 40% of California state workers are unvaccinated against COVID despite Newsom order

Sun, 2021-10-17 08:16

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference after meeting with students at James Denman Middle School on Oct. 1, 2021, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/TNS) (Justin Sullivan/)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The COVID-19 vaccination rate is lower among California state workers than among the state’s general population, according to data from the state Human Resources Department.

Fewer than two-thirds of state workers — about 62% — were vaccinated as of Oct. 7, according to preliminary figures provided by department spokeswoman Camille Travis. That compares to a rate of about 72% among all Californians, according to state data.

The employee data is incomplete, accounting for about 213,000 of the state’s 238,000 employees, Travis said. But the relatively low rate identified so far suggests many workers weren’t moved by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s July orders to workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

Several of the largest state departments shared vaccination rates for their staff: 52% of California Highway Patrol employees, 60% of Department of Motor Vehicles employees and 60% of prison employees have received the shots. Caltrans reports a higher rate, with 70% of its employees vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Newsom administration’s shot-or-test rules for state workers are less stringent than those the governor imposed on health care workers, who must get vaccinated unless claiming a religious or medical exemption.

Newsom’s administration also is defending state prison employees’ ability to choose whether they get vaccinated. The Democrat’s administration is appealing a ruling from federal judge who ordered the state to ensure that all prison employees are vaccinated against the virus.

Still, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly expressed frustration with the pace of vaccination in a Sept. 28 letter to state employees he said was occasioned by the preventable COVID-19 death of a worker who left behind a wife and two children.

“We haven’t done enough,” Ghaly said in the letter. “Despite our work to avoid it, we have allowed an invaluable, life-saving health intervention (to) become more complicated, more polarizing, more confusing than anything seen before in modern medicine.”

He urged employees to get vaccinated for their families, noting the vaccines are safe and effective and have helped keep the delta variant of the virus at bay.

“For whatever reason that has held you out from getting vaccinated, I implore you to reconsider,” he said in the letter.

Vaccinated state employees could soon come into closer contact with their unvaccinated peers as state offices reopen in the weeks ahead. Large numbers of unvaccinated employees could strain some offices, since supervisors are responsible for monitoring and processing employee coronavirus tests.

The Human Resources Department has been collecting vaccination data since mid-August and coordinating efforts to set up testing programs for every one of the 166 departments, agencies, boards, commissions and other offices that make up the state government.

CalHR Director Eraina Ortega called the effort “monumental.”

“I don’t think we should underestimate the impact of having to identify the staff, train them, set up the program, work with (the Department of Public Health) to set up the supplies, all these elements,” Ortega said. “State departments normally do a lot of complex work, but it’s in their subject area. We’ve asked them to take on something that’s out of their usual expertise and to be trained and do it.”

The state launched pilot testing programs in the central offices of five state departments, and has expanded testing to 13 departments and 40 sites, Ortega said.

The offices are using a combination of antigen and PCR testing, working through a national shortage of supplies for the antigen tests, which are less uncomfortable then the deep nasal swabs of the PCR tests. Sixty departments with 20 or fewer employees are using over-the-counter tests, said Travis, the CalHR spokeswoman.

The Public Health Department contracts with Color Genomics, a Bay Area firm, for testing supplies and services for most departments.

Departments haven’t explicitly tied reopening plans to their testing programs, but they are expected to provide tests for employees who don’t disclose their vaccination status.

Ortega said the Human Resources Department will eventually be responsible for ensuring to the Governor’s Office that unvaccinated employees across state government are being tested according to Newsom’s orders.

As of last week, the Human Resources Department had received data from 118 of the 166 state government offices, said Travis.

Several large state departments had planned to start requiring all employees to begin reappearing in offices at least one or two days a week as soon as Sept. 1, but many of those plans have been delayed.

Departments including the State Treasurer’s Office, the Franchise Tax Board and the Department of Health Care Services attributed delays to testing supply shortages and the delta variant.

The Treasurer’s Office is now scheduled to start calling employees into the office starting Oct. 22, while the Franchise Tax Board, the state’s ninth-largest department, plans to start cycling all employees into offices Nov. 1.

The true vaccination rate could be higher than the reported 62% figure, even among the 213,000 employees included in the Human Resources Department’s data.

Paulina Vasquez, a California State Lottery district sales representative and SEIU Local 1000 union steward, said some employees — including her — are vaccinated but haven’t shown proof to the state.

Vasquez said that while the lottery hasn’t offered employees any testing yet, she wants to be tested regularly even though she’s vaccinated. She said her job requires her to visit about a dozen grocery or liquor stores each day, and she doesn’t want to spread the virus with a breakthrough infection.

“I would hate to contract it, be asymptomatic and then spread it,” she said. “That’s my biggest fear. I would feel terrible if I got someone’s parent or grandparent sick who works in one of these stores.”

Vasquez said some other employees are taking the same approach, and still others just prefer not to share any medical information with their employer, including their vaccination status.

Lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Becker confirmed the Lottery has not yet started a testing program. “Lottery will begin implementing its COVID-19 testing program — we hope soon — once we have received all of the necessary testing supplies,” Becker said in an email. “We do have most of them and are working with CDPH to secure the rest.”

Becker said 77% of Lottery employees have submitted proof of vaccination.

Ortega said departments are prioritizing tests for unvaccinated employees, but are also offering them to vaccinated workers when possible.

More stringent vaccination rules could be coming to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state’s largest department with about 66,000 employees and a 60% vaccination rate.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar in Oakland issued an order Sept. 27 directing CDCR to vaccinate all state prison employees, eliminating the testing alternative except in cases of religious or medical exemptions.

Similar orders have proven effective at improving vaccination rates among private-sector health care workers. Vaccination rates surged among Sacramento-area hospital employees after the Newsom administration’s stringent order of Aug. 5, clearing 90%.

Judge Tigar issued his order over objections from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which said it would continue to fight stricter rules. This week, the Newsom administration filed a notice that it plans to appeal Tigar’s order.

Several state unions have formally objected even to Newsom’s shot-or-test rules.

SEIU Local 1000, Cal Fire Local 2881 and the International Union of Operating Engineers each filed formal complaints targeting the administration’s decision to impose the rules immediately, rather than giving unions the standard 30 to 60 days’ notice to meet and confer over impacts of workplace changes.

The administration recently reached a settlement agreement with Local 1000, the largest of the state employee unions, that allows employees to refuse to share their vaccination status but still requires testing for those who choose not to say whether they’re vaccinated.

Getting by in ‘The Great Resignation’: How people who quit or retired are making ends meet

Sun, 2021-10-17 08:09

iStock (fizkes/)

In discussing the surge of workers quitting or retiring during the coronavirus pandemic, one question that I keep hearing, and that I asked last week, is: How are people who abruptly quit or retired from their jobs getting by financially?

Most of the departing workers I heard from had also asked themselves that question, but they had decided that they could more easily give up their paychecks than their well-being.

Some retirees said that although the pandemic nudged them into retirement faster than they expected, it also brought relief from the expenses incurred in pursuing their careers.

“I [no longer] need to buy clothes or shoes for work, fill the gas tank three times a week, pay for parking, etc.,” wrote Sandy Marasco in an email. After being laid off from her pharmaceutical industry job in Cambridge, Mass., early during the pandemic, Marasco used her severance package to pay off her mortgage.

She then lived off her savings and state unemployment benefits through 18 months of unsuccessful job-searching before realizing that her earlier goal of working full-time until age 70 no longer appealed to her. Marasco now gets by on Social Security and a 401(k) retirement plan.

Kathleen Corcoran had concerns about giving up the “golden handcuffs” of a full-time job in the high-cost D.C. metro area when she retired from her communications career. But no full-time salary could allow her to buy what she really wanted: time.

Giving up income is stressful, but “then you realize some of that money is going for things to de-stress you” from work, Corcoran told me in a phone interview. “Once I sat down and looked at the numbers, I realized [retiring] was doable - and what I was getting in return was time to pursue things I really wanted to pursue,” such as seeing friends, writing, reading and volunteering. She now teaches part-time, a job she finds “rewarding in a way that goes beyond a paycheck.”

A former office manager in Laurel, Md., who withheld her name because of tension with her former boss, has no regrets about retiring early, even though it meant getting less in Social Security: “If I had waited until 70, I would have received $300 more per month.” But, she said, she weighed her sanity against that financial loss and “decided to take the leap. I’m so happy that I did.”

Of course, retirement is still a long way off for many people. Some have been reassessing what they want from their jobs versus what they need.

Jason S. of New York City, who asked for partial anonymity out of respect for relatives in government who share his surname, was laid off from one contract position and terminated from the next after he had protested being called into the office for a job he’d been told would be 100 percent remote.

Although his wife works and they have six months of savings, Jason’s being out of work is taking a big bite out of their finances, “so this is not sustainable even in the medium term,” he told me in an email. His job-search priorities are shifting: “Taking a lesser-paying job with health insurance over a no-benefits [contract job] would be a no-brainer for me now.”

And some people have been able to weather income loss thanks to careers that conditioned them to prepare for the worst. Marlen Garcia, of Chicago, told me via email how at age 26 she was denied a $5,000 raise with her promotion at a newspaper because of company pay policy, and how she saw other journalists lose jobs and opportunities “on the whims of bosses.”

Garcia told her husband, “We have to be in a position where I can leave my job one day if that happens to me.” They bought a small house and “ate a lot of bologna” so they could afford to pay extra toward the principal each month. When the mortgage was paid off 16 years later, it allowed Garcia the flexibility to take freelance and part-time work when full-time jobs were unavailable.

One common theme among the people who shared their stories with me: They don’t take their relative fortune for granted.

“I have been very lucky and am thankful for that,” Marasco wrote. “I also do what I can for those less fortunate.” Marasco opted not to collect the federal government’s expanded pandemic unemployment benefits.

Garcia recognizes that luck and the economy were important in shoring up her finances. “I had less than $5,000 in loans when I finished college in 1993. [Graduates today] have tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Rents are crazy. Too many homes are unaffordable. I don’t see how they can do it.”

Even before the pandemic, rising costs of living - rather, costs of surviving - have left most low- and middle-income workers unable to build a sizable savings cushion or anchor themselves with real estate and other investments. For those with student loans, medical debt and dependents, the footing was already treacherous. Enter the pandemic, and the ground is crumbling.

I know for every success story I heard, there are many more invisible struggles - people with no pensions, partners or pandemic relief to help them get by. I can only assume they’re consumed with making ends meet.

Karla L. Miller writes the Watercooler column for The Washington Post, offering weekly advice on workplace dramas and traumas.

Strike dodged with deal between film and TV crews, studios

Sun, 2021-10-17 07:28

A poster advocating union solidarity hangs from a Costume Designers Guild office building, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Burbank, Calif. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike for the first time in its 128-year history. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello) (Chris Pizzello/)

LOS ANGELES — An 11th-hour deal was reached Saturday, averting a strike of film and television crews that would have seen some 60,000 behind-the-scenes workers walk off their jobs and would have frozen productions in Hollywood and across the U.S.

After days of marathon negotiations, representatives from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and from the studios and entertainment companies who employ them reached the three-year contract agreement before a Monday strike deadline, avoiding a serious setback for an industry that had just gotten back to work after long pandemic shutdowns.

“This is a Hollywood ending,” union president Matthew Loeb said. “Our members stood firm.”

The workers still must vote to approve it, but the strike has been called off with the tentative deal.

Many in Hollywood celebrated the news.

“Good for @IATSE for standing your ground. And don’t forget we got your back anytime you need us,” comedian, actor and writer Patton Oswalt said on Twitter.

Another actor, comic and writer, Yvette Nicole Brown, tweeted “#UnionStrong!” along with a link to a story reporting the agreement.

“Congratulations IATSE brothers and sisters!” Jennifer Garner said on Instagram.

The effects of the strike would have been immediate, with crews not only on long-term productions but daily series including network talk shows walking off their jobs. Shows with short turnarounds like soap operas would also have felt immediate effects.

The union represents cinematographers, camera operators, set designers, carpenters, hair and makeup artists and many others.

Union members said previous contracts allowed their employers to force them to work excessive hours and deny them reasonable rest via meal breaks and sufficient time off between shifts. Leaders said the lowest paid crafts were receiving unlivable wages and streaming outlets including Netflix, Apple and Amazon were allowed to work them even harder for less money.

IATSE’S statement Saturday said the agreement “addresses core issues, including reasonable rest periods; meal breaks; a living wage for those on the bottom of the pay scale; and significant increases in compensation to be paid by new-media companies.”

The union reported on Oct. 4 that its members had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, setting off industry-wide fears, but talks immediately resumed between IATSE and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios and other entertainment companies in negotiations.

“We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world, and we have now reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs,” Loeb said.

AMPTP spokesman Jarryd Gonzales confirmed the agreement had been reached.

A Monday strike deadline was set on Wednesday when talks stagnated, but the union said subsequent negotiations were productive.

It would have been the first nationwide strike in the 128-year history of IATSE, and would have affected not just the Los Angeles area and New York but growing production hubs like Georgia, New Mexico and Colorado.

During negotiations, many prominent names in entertainment spoke out in favor of the union’s demands, including Octavia Spencer, Mindy Kaling and Jane Fonda. The Directors Guild of America issued a statement of solidarity too, signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Barry Jenkins, Ron Howard and Ava DuVernay.

US religious group says 17 missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Sun, 2021-10-17 07:24

FILE - A view of the densely populated Jalousie neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. A group of 17 U.S. missionaries including children was kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 according to a voice message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, file) (Rodrigo Abd/)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A group of 17 missionaries including children was kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, according to a voice message sent to various religious missions by an organization with direct knowledge of the incident.

The missionaries were on their way home from building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.

“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute message said. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.”

The message says the mission’s field director is working with the U.S. Embassy, and that the field director’s family and one other unidentified man stayed at the ministry’s base while everyone else visited the orphanage.

No other details were immediately available.

A U.S. government spokesperson said they were aware of the reports on the kidnapping.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the spokesperson said, declining further comment.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is in touch with Haitian authorities to try to resolve the case.

Haiti is once again struggling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that had diminished after President Jovenel Moïse was fatally shot at his private residence on July 7, and following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people.

Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a couple hundred dollars to more than $1 million, according to authorities.

Last month, a deacon was killed in front of a church in the capital of Port-au-Prince and his wife kidnapped, one of dozens of people who have been abducted in recent months.

At least 328 kidnapping victims were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report issued last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.

Gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police officers, busloads of passengers and others as they grow more powerful. In April, one gang kidnapped five priests and two nuns, a move that prompted a three-day protest, with Haitian now preparing for another protest scheduled for Monday to decry the lack of security in the impoverished country.

“Political turmoil, the surge in gang violence, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions – including food insecurity and malnutrition – all contribute to the worsening of the humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report. “An overstretched and under-resourced police force alone cannot address the security ills of Haiti.”

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti.

The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after high-level U.S. officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for Haiti’s National Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in temporary shelters in increasingly unhygienic conditions.

Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, U.S. under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights.

“Dismantling violent gangs is vital to Haitian stability and citizen security,” she recently tweeted.


AP journalists Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Enduring hostility in a medical profession with a fast-food pace, Alaska’s pharmacies struggle to keep workers

Sun, 2021-10-17 07:14

Customers wait in line Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 during the lunchtime rush at Ron's Apothecary Shoppe in Juneau. The pharmacy is one of many around Alaska contending with staffing issues. (James Brooks / ADN)

Soldotna pharmacist Justin Ruffridge sees high turnover among employees, particularly entry-level technicians whose average pay isn’t much more than they could make at some McDonald’s restaurants.

The job demands the busy pace of a fast-food gig and the customer service pressure of retail, but with the added stress and precision of working around medicines, where there’s no room for error.

Average pay is about $17.50 an hour, said Ruffridge, who also chairs the Alaska Board of Pharmacy.

“Which for the amount of work that individual needs to perform is miniscule,” he said. “It’s not an easy position to fill ... the job is a lot of work for very little glory.”

Alaska’s pharmacies are grappling with the same worker shortages hamstringing restaurants and retail businesses across the country, as well as health care providers.

But on top of that, our isolated state offers fewer educational opportunities in pharmaceutical fields and more public outrage toward health care workers than maybe any other right now, officials say.

Pharmacy workers, especially technicians, are usually the first people customers deal with. Now, in the state’s charged atmosphere surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, some report angry pushback on vaccines and pressure to provide unproven treatments like ivermectin, state officials say.

Pharmacists who for years have asked anyone picking up a prescription if they want a flu shot don’t dare bring up a COVID-19 vaccination.

“I’ve talked to few pharmacists recently who are considering getting out of the profession or leaving Alaska due to the hostility they’re seeing at their job on a daily basis,” said Dr. Coleman Cutchins, the state pharmacist.

Cutchins said two of his former students are transferring from Alaskan communities to other jobs in the state due to the anger and bad treatment they’re experiencing at work.

“It is happening more in Alaska than anywhere else,” he said.

‘Time and training’

In Juneau at Ron’s Apothecary Shoppe, owner and pharmacist Scott Watts took a quick break to field a reporter’s call this week.

“I’ll trade you an employee for a story,” Watts joked. “It’s been a rough couple weeks.”

His store is busy all the time amid the constantly changing health care landscape, he said. The pharmacy has a decent staffing level for current demands but may be losing a few employees, so Watts said he doesn’t have much of a cushion. The recruiting pool is small and the job is challenging.

Pharmacist Scott Watts delivers a shot to Butch Laughlin on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at Ron's Apothecary in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

“It takes time and training,” he said. “It’s not something that is learned immediately.”

It’s easy to find stories of long waits, changes in service, or delays around the state.

At Wasilla’s busy Target store last weekend, a line snaked from the pharmacy nearly to the front entrance, with just one harried-looking employee at the counter. A Walgreens pharmacy in Anchorage this week had to reschedule a flu shot because they were stretched too thin. A Railbelt pharmacy owner who didn’t want to be quoted said their stores stopped administering vaccines because they didn’t have enough workers.

Pharmacist Jackie May at Bernie’s Pharmacy in Anchorage didn’t have much time to talk Friday morning.

The pharmacy was pretty backed up, May said, but as an independently owned business, at least Bernie’s could tailor the day’s tasks to match staffing level. That’s different from pharmacies in big box stores where customers might find one pharmacist working with few technicians and filling hundreds of prescriptions while answering phones and vaccinating people.

“We’re super busy, but I’m so much more concerned about my colleagues,” she said.

Representatives of Safeway, Target and Walgreen did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Fred Meyer spokesperson did not answer specific questions and pointed a reporter to the corporate jobs listing site, which includes a number of pharmacy positions around Alaska.

Training future techs

Ashley Schaber started out as a pharmacy technician in Georgia at the age of 16. Now she’s the inpatient pharmacy manager at Alaska Native Medical Center.

Generally, the pharmacy is seeing more open entry-level positions than qualified candidates, but has been able to recently hire and train a few new technicians, Schaber said. That, along with pharmacists helping with technician duties, is allowing the pharmacy to function with enough staff for the workload.

The ANMC pharmacy is also involved in an effort to improve the hiring situation with an apprenticeship program for new technicians, in partnership the Alaska Primary Care Association and Southcentral Area Health Educational Center through the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The pharmacy had its first cohort involved with the program in the past month, Schaber said. She hopes the additional training for technicians helps bring more into the profession.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to help the public and to help take care of patients and to serve in the medical field,” she said. “There’s a lot of growth opportunities.”

Pharmacist Justin Ruffridge fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine before giving and injection at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy on January 8, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Still, Ruffridge said, the charged level of emotion surrounding COVID-19 vaccines and masking in Anchorage and elsewhere has added yet another hurdle to efforts to recruit workers.

[Anchorage Assembly deliberation of proposed mask mandate marked by audience outbursts]

A co-owner of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Ruffridge has personally testified against mask mandates at city council meetings “because I think in Alaska they don’t work very well,” but had to stop watching Anchorage assembly testimony during hearings on a mask mandate due to the constant haranging of medical professionals and public health measures.

“I do wish the public discourse had put health care professionals back in a position of trust rather than in a position of skepticism. And I don’t know if we get that back very easily,” he said. “That was always something that gave people great pride in this career choice. People trust us.”

East Thunderbirds advance to Division I state football title game with an overtime win over the West Eagles

Sat, 2021-10-16 22:05

The East High Thunderbirds are heading to Division I state championship game and senior Damarion Delaney played a key role in making it happen.

A week after scoring four touchdowns in the team’s rout of Service in the quarterfinal, the CIC Utility Player of the Year helped his team advance past the semifinal round with a trio of clutch plays in overtime to beat the West High Eagles 34-32.

Delaney dealt with debilitating cramps that caused him to be examined by trainers and leave the field on multiple occasions but with the game on the line, he made plays on both sides of the ball to get the final margin of victory and ultimately seal the win.

“It was tough because I was starting to cramp up really bad,” said Delaney. “When I came back in, I just knew that everything was on the line.”

It only took the Thunderbirds one play to get into the end zone on the first play of regulation as well as the first play of overtime. The latter came on a 10-yard end-around hand-off to the Delaney for a quick decisive score.

“When coach called my name on that very first play on offense, I was very thankful to get in the end zone,” said Delaney.

East then proceeded to run the exact same play to the same player on the same side of the field to convert the crucial two-point conversion attempt.

“They’re not going to think I’m stupid enough to run this again, run the damn thing,” said East coach Jeff Trotter to a member of his staff following the touchdown. “It didn’t take a whole lot of coaching smarts just to watch Damarion and how he had that edge.”

The successful conversion by the Thunderbirds meant that West would have to go for two as well if it were able to get into the end zone. It only took the Eagles one more play than it did their crosstown rivals to score a touchdown on an 8-yard scramble from senior quarterback Jaideven Suesue. However, they were not able to tie the game because Delaney was able to break up the short pass intended for Eagles wide receiver Quentin Underwood in the back of the end zone.

“That’s just what he does. He’s a dog no matter what,” said senior quarterback Kyler Johnson. “Get injured and he comes right back in no matter what.”

While the game wound up coming down to the wire it did not start out that way. The Thunderbirds quickly built a 7-0 lead after junior DeShawn Rushmeyer took the opening kickoff 79-yards for a touchdown.

East extended its lead to 13-0 on the first play of the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run from Johnson. West drove the ball inside the red zone on the ensuing possession but the first of Suesue’s two red-zone interceptions of the game killed the promising drive.

Just when it seemed like the Thunderbirds were in firm control of the game, they opened the door for the Eagles to get right back into the mix. After failing to convert on a fourth down deep in their own territory, the Eagles cut their lead to six points in one play on a 23-yard run from senior running back James ‘Boogie’ Sloan.

“I really thought we’d get that,” said Trotter. “I should’ve kicked it but I can’t look back and got to move on, don’t dwell on it. Luckily the players didn’t make me look too stupid and won the game for me.”

West got the ball to start the second half and took its first lead of the game after it capped off a six-play drive with a 16-yard rushing touchdown from Suesue where he squirted through the defense on a rush to the left.

The Eagles forced another turnover on downs and would’ve extended their lead by a possession but a holding penalty negated a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Sloan. Suesue’s second red zone interception was on the next play and resulted in the Thunderbirds taking the lead back after Johnson returned the turnover 101 yards for a touchdown.

“I saw him go up the middle and I kind of baited him into it and I just had to make a play,” said Johnson.

Even after East went up by 12 points late in the third quarter on a 2-yard touchdown by Delaney, West didn’t give up and clawed its way back with a pair of scores in the fourth quarter. They had an opportunity to take a late lead on an extra point attempt following Sloan’s second touchdown of the game but the ball bounced off the crossbar leaving the game tied at 26-26 with just over four minutes remaining in regulation.

Neither team could deliver the final dagger in the remaining time left in the fourth quarter but East was ultimately able to make the requisite plays to take care of business in overtime and punch its ticket to next weekend’s title game.

“I feel like nobody else deserved this more than we did and I’m just glad that everybody came out and put their all out on the field today,” said Delaney.

Lathrop Malemutes win their first state title over football dynasty Soldotna Stars

Sat, 2021-10-16 21:30

The Lathrop Malemutes celebrate their victory over the Soldotna Stars 39-28 in the Alaska First National Bowl Division II State Football Championship game at Service High on Saturday. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

At a pivotal moment near the end of Saturday’s first half, Lathrop coach Luke Balash goaded the officials in hopes a fourth-down spot went the way of the Malemutes and their defensive unit, of which it did.

“C’mon, we’re the underdogs and (Soldotna) is the dynasty,” Balash ribbed from the sidelines.

He repeated the claim more than once as the First National Bowl Division II state championship game played on.

Uh, yeah, about that?

Lathrop 39, Soldotna 28.

Andre Williams of Lathrop breaks through a bunch of Soldotna defenders to gain some yardage Saturday. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

Buoyed by senior quarterback Jarren Littell’s four rushing and two passing touchdowns and sound game-planning from the start of the game, the Malemutes claimed their first state football title of any kind. Lathrop accomplished the near unthinkable by beating stout Soldotna twice — in the postseason finale at Service High on the Anchorage Hillside and during the regular season, Aug. 20 in Fairbanks.

The Stars had won eight consecutive DII crowns and won those championship games dating back to 2010 by an average 18 points.

Lathrop’s players sure didn’t act like the kind of loveable longshots Balash described.

“Not at all,” said senior Dean Silva, who converted a 34-yard passing play for a touchdown on his team’s third play from scrimmage and caught a huge fourth-down pass in the fourth quarter. “We just wanted to come out and play like we always do, and that’s with a lot of heart.”

Dean Silva of Lathrop evades Noah Harper of Soldotna to score the first touchdown of the game at Service High. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

Prior to Saturday, the Malemutes had but one DII runner-up finish (2019) and a pair of single-classification second-place showings in the old unofficial state invitational (1984 and 1985).

“What these kids accomplished tonight is truly historic,” Balash said.

The Malemutes finished their most memorable of seasons with an 8-1 record.

“This is just everything coming together perfectly, a dream come true,” said junior Tyler Clooten, who recovered a key fumble early in the fourth quarter. “I’ve been with these guys since I was four-years old, and this is what we’ve been working to accomplish.”

Clooten’s fumble recovery came on the ensuing kickoff after Littell punched in the third of his touchdown runs to give Lathrop a 33-20 advantage with 10 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.

“The ball was on the ground,” said Clooten, who proved an emotional mess of happy tears in the postgame. “I figured it was game and I needed to get (the football).

“I hit the ground, had the ball and got up to celebrate with my team.”

Littell scored his final touchdown from 2-yards out minutes later.

Lathrop scored 27 of the evening’s first 33 points and never really wavered under the stress of Soldotna’s ridiculous success. Senior Eddie Coleman caught a 65-yard scoring pass from Littell in the opening quarter.

The Lathrop Malemutes celebrate their victory over the Soldotna Stars 39-28 in the Alaska First National Bowl Division II State Football Championship game at Service High on Saturday. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

The Stars finished 7-2. Senior Gehret Medcoff led all players with 18 carries for a game-high 198 yards, including a 48-yard scoring run in the first quarter. Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. and his staff were gracious runner-ups in the handshake line. He didn’t buy the Lathrop dark horse stuff, either.

“This isn’t as special thing as people want to think, Lathrop is a better team than us,” Brantley said. “They proved it — twice.

“They outcoached us. Their kids outplayed us. There is no miracle that happened. They’re just better.”

Wayne Mellon, Brock Wilson and Brayden Wilson scored Soldotna rushing touchdowns. The Stars amassed 371 total offensive yards to Lathrop’s 324.

Braydon Taylor of Soldotna trips up Peyton George of Lathrop just shy of the goal line. The play was called back. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

Littell passed for 184 yards and the two touchdowns, while modestly totaling 33 rushing yards on 12 carries. But he was money from inside the 5-yard line. Silva finished with four catches and 98 yards. Coleman also had four grabs for 83 yards.

“I would say everything came together for us just right,” said Balash, who finished his 10th year at Lathrop and 21st coaching in Alaska. “I’m super proud of these kids. They controlled what they could and played well.

“But I meant it when I said if we played Soldotna 100 times, (it) would win 80 of them because it’s such an amazing team. We just showed up (tonight).”

Veteran journalist Matt Nevala can be found on social media at @MNevala9.

The Lathrop Malemutes celebrate their victory over the Soldotna Stars. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)
The Lathrop Malemutes celebrate their victory over the Soldotna Stars. (Photo by Bob Hallinen) (Bob Hallinen/)

The cruise industry says it’s safer than other vacations. Here’s what COVID-19 experts say.

Sat, 2021-10-16 19:45

Carnival Cruise Line's Sunrise and Vista ships, along with the MSC Meraviglia, are shown docked at PortMiami in February. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS) (Susan Stocker/)

When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, there was practically no worse place to be than a cruise ship. Today, as COVID-19 still lingers around the world, cruise industry leaders are making a bold claim: Cruising is not only safe, but it’s safer than other kinds of travel and vacations.

Public health experts consulted by the Miami Herald agreed to some extent, but with caveats.

At the SeaTrade cruise conference last month in Miami Beach, Florida, the industry’s largest gathering, executives promoted their ships as the safest vacation option, based on the fact that they can mandate vaccines and testing, compared with vacations where travelers take airplanes, stay in hotels and dine at restaurants.

“There will be no safer way of traveling once we truly start cruising,” said Emre Sayin, the CEO of Global Ports Holding, the world’s largest cruise port operator. “And that will become an advantage.”

The claim was echoed by many other industry leaders at the conference. Richard Fain, the CEO of Royal Caribbean, said, “Unlike almost any other place you can think of whether it’s restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues ... we control the environment.” Arnold Donald, the CEO of Carnival Corporation, agreed, stating that their safety protocols were “much more rigorous than equivalent or similar land-based activities.”

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Tom McAlpin, the CEO of Virgin Voyages, Richard Branson’s newly launched cruise line, said that their cruises are “safer than a hotel, safer than the grocery store.”

Epidemiologists say there is some truth to the claim: Enclosed environments, including cruises, are largely safe if every passenger and crew member is fully vaccinated. However, they stopped short of declaring it the “safest” travel option.

“It’s not the safest vacation; camping out in the woods would be the safest vacation option,” said Kathleen Sposato, the director of infection prevention at Jackson Health System. “As with everything else these days, there’s a risk/benefit analysis that everyone has to do when making decisions at this stage in the pandemic.”

Sposato also pointed out that when compared to taking an airplane and staying in a hotel, cruising means prolonged exposure to hundreds or thousands of people on a ship, whereas domestic flights are only a matter of hours and hotel guests have far less interaction with one another.

Some experts noted possible exceptions that can put a dent in the cruise industry’s argument, including that children under 12 are still not eligible for the vaccine, the risk of passengers presenting fake vaccine cards and the situation at ports of call.

“The cruise industry has a strong argument, but the next question is, cruise liners go and visit other ports in other countries,” said Dr. William Greenough of Johns Hopkins, who specializes in international infectious disease spread and has studied norovirus and influenza outbreaks on cruises. “There’s the rub. How are they handling that? Passengers may be coming into contact with populations abroad that are not highly immunized.”

The cruise industry won a victory when a federal court sided with Norwegian Cruise Line in its lawsuit against the Florida Surgeon General after the state banned businesses from mandating vaccines, paving the way for cruises to require full vaccination for passengers and crew.

Dr. Jessica Justman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University Medical Center, encouraged potential passengers to read the fine print about COVID safety protocols when selecting a cruise.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “If I were selecting a cruise as a passenger, I would want to understand exactly what the vaccine requirements were, how many exceptions there would be for unvaccinated people, what the testing requirements are, and how often they’re repeated. I’m all for increased surveillance.”

Among the largest cruise operators, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean require full vaccination for all passengers over the age of 12, with some limited exceptions. MSC Cruises says on its website that passengers who don’t show proof of vaccination “must comply with the requirements for not fully vaccinated guests.” Branson’s adults-only Virgin Voyages requires all passengers to be fully vaccinated and performs rapid tests upon boarding.

Justman said she has advised her family members to select a cruise where monitoring is very stringent. Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiology professor at the University of Florida, said she discouraged family members from taking a cruise in August and September because of the delta variant, but gave the green light for them to get on board in December.

Sposato, the infection prevention specialist at Jackson Health System, said she would suggest vacationers consider choosing something else.

“We’re so close to being past this thing, but a year from now, it’ll probably be fine,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s an unnecessary risk, but I’m not dealing with the mental health issues that many people are.”

Experts agreed that with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s important for people to make informed decisions based on their personal health and comfort levels.

“We’re at a phase in the pandemic where people need to pick what risks we want to take based on what activities are important to us,” said Justman. “If going on a cruise for vacation is something that’s really important, then approach it in a way that’s as careful as possible.”

The shorter work week really worked in Iceland. Here’s how.

Sat, 2021-10-16 19:40

Even as the Covid-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to reimagine the workplace, researchers in Iceland were already conducting two trials of a shorter work week that involved about 2,500 workers - more than 1% of the country’s working population. They found that the experiment was an “overwhelming success” - workers were able to work less, get paid the same, while maintaining productivity and improving personal well-being.

The Iceland research has been one of the few large, formal studies on the subject. So how did participants pull it off and what lessons do they have for the rest of the world? Bloomberg News interviewed four Icelanders, who described some of the initial problems that accompanied changed schedules, yet they were helped by their organizations which took concerted steps like introducing formal training programs on time-management to teach them how to reduce their hours while maintaining productivity.

The trials also worked because both employees and employers were flexible, willing to experiment and make changes when something didn’t work. In some cases, employers had to add a few hours back after cutting them too much. Iceland did the trials partly because people were reporting relatively long working hours, averaging 44.4 hours per week - the third highest of Eurostat countries in 2018.

Participants in the Iceland study reduced their hours by three to five hours per week without losing pay. While the shorter work hours have so far largely been adopted in Iceland’s public sector, workers and managers used simple techniques to maintain productivity while cutting back on time in the office. As employees from Silicon Valley to Wall Street look for better ways to balance work and life, here are tips from four Icelanders.

- Hjalti Guðmundsson, Director, Office for Land and Road Operation, a government agency that manages land.

As director of capital Reykjavik’s Land and Operation agency, Hjalti Guðmundsson manages a team of about 140 people. Most of them work outdoors, on tasks like road maintenance, cleaning streets and gardening. Before starting the trial in 2016, employees worked long hours, usually from 7 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. or later, though work from 3:30 p.m. onwards was counted as overtime.

Since the organization has different work sites, he was able to experiment with two different models simultaneously. At some sites, four of the five work days were shortened by an hour, allowing staff to finish at 4 p.m. At others, staff worked regular hours Monday to Thursday, and a half day on Friday. Salaries were unchanged, with written agreements between employers and employees. And at the end of the trial, staff voted for their preferred model as a permanent arrangement. The result was clear - more than 90% of workers wanted to shorten their work day by one hour four days a week.

“It didn’t surprise me that they wanted to do that, because if you work from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the last hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. are not very productive,” explains Guðmundsson. “Contrarily, I think we’ve gained productivity, not only by this hour. But people are more willing to do their jobs in the active work time.” Those who worked in an office had shorter meetings. Those who worked on site spent less time going to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy, as fewer sick days were reported. Workers reported having more time to spend with their families and on hobbies. Many appreciated gaining an extra hour of daylight, especially during the winter.

Guðmundsson himself has been able to partially enjoy the shortened work week, and says he aims to commit to the new model by the end of the year. As a manager, he wants to lead by example. “Most of the projects can wait until tomorrow morning,” said Guðmundsson. “It’s a mindset, I think. You just have to work your way through this, you know?”

- Arna Hrönn Aradóttir, Project Manager, Reykjavík Service Centre, one of five service centers run by Reykjavik city providing social service for children and families.

Arna Hrönn Aradóttir, a public-health project manager in Reykjavik’s suburbs, was one of the first to trial shorter hours as her workplace was chosen for the experiment in 2015. As a mother of five children, Aradóttir struggled to balance an 8-hour work day with childcare and housework. At the beginning of the trial, she opted to shorten her work day by an hour every day. Her workplace enrolled her in a time-management course, where she learned to shorten meetings, reduce time spent traveling for meetings and schedule her work more efficiently.

“I feel like I’m more focused now,” said Aradóttir. “Before the pandemic, I spent a lot of time going to a meeting by car, but now I can sit in my office and have meetings through my computer. So I have gained four hours in my work day.”

She used to have a 40-hour work week, but now works just 36 hours for the same pay taking on regular 8-hour days on Monday to Thursday, and 4 hours on Fridays. This in turn has enabled her to study for a master’s degree, enhancing her position on the job market. When there’s no school, she says she goes cycling or hiking, and has more time for herself.

“The benefits for us is that we had more quality of life,” said Aradóttir. “It has helped me to spend more time with my children and experience less stress.”

- Sólveig Reynisdóttir, Director, Reykjavik Service Centre.

Sólveig Reynisdóttir, Aradóttir’s boss, said Reykjavík Service Centre’s participation was in response to an annual employee survey that revealed that its workers experienced a lot of strain in their jobs. The center experimented with the number of hours they would reduce in the work week, and at one point had to add back some hours after cutting too much.”We have shortened it five hours, then three hours and now four hours a week,” said Reynisdóttir. Some parts of the transition did not go as smoothly as expected. Employees were reluctant to go from a 35-hour to 37-hour work week, even though it was still fewer hours than before the trial.

But overall, Reynisdóttir views the trial as more positive than negative. Productivity was maintained while employees reported greater job satisfaction and fewer sick days that involved short illnesses like colds.

Like Aradóttir, Reynisdóttir said she was able to maintain productivity by shortening meetings and replacing in-person ones with online sessions, saving on travel time.”Covid has pushed us in that direction,” explains Reynisdóttir. “The waiting lists are not longer. The number of interviews is on par with what was before.”

In fact, the shortened work week has motivated employees to work harder, she notes. But as a manager, Reynisdóttir has had more difficulty following the shortened work week herself. “Sometimes there is a lot of projects and then we know the workload and strain becomes more but that evens out when you look back a whole year,” she said.”It has made my job easier to have a shorter work week,” said Reynisdóttir. “The employees are more satisfied which is of great importance for me as a manager.”

- Saga Stephensen, Project manager for multicultural education for preschools at Reykjavik City.

Saga Stephensen just started the shorter work week this January. Collectively, she and her colleagues voted to have a full day off every other Friday and work regular hours the rest of the time.

Like Aradóttir, her workplace enrolled her in time-management courses that enabled her to shorten and reduce meetings, replace in-person appointments with online ones, thereby cutting travel time as well. Her workplace also decided to have no meetings on the Fridays they do work, allowing them to wrap up tasks at the end of the week.

“That has really helped because we have a lot of meetings and you rethink them,” said Stephensen. “You think about if you really need that meeting and if it is necessary.”

It took some time for her and her colleagues to adjust to the new schedule. On weeks that she has Friday off, she sometimes ends up working longer hours other days, she noted. But overall everyone is pleased with the new arrangement.

“I think because people think that this is a very positive thing, everyone is trying hard to keep this up,” said Stephensen. “We are also urged by our bosses to take advantage of our day and take the time off.”

On her Friday off, she now spends time doing household chores, meeting up with family and friends, and on occasion does a short trip during her extended weekend. Stephensen also finds it easier to return to work after recent holidays, she said. “I did not feel sad for the holiday to be over because I knew there were some breaks to look forward to.”

During lockdown, I thought I was dating a happy homebody, but it turns out my guy just wants to party

Sat, 2021-10-16 19:35

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

I met my current boyfriend during COVID, so during the beginning of our relationship we spent a lot of time just the two of us, which was awesome because we had a lot of time to get to know each other.

Now that things have opened up and our lives are getting back to pre-pandemic “normal,” it’s been kind of a rough transition. He goes out way more than me. I’m always open to drinks or dinner on the weekend, but he likes to go out multiple nights a week. I’ve really been a happy hermit for years, and have a few close friends. He has a huge social circle and I’m definitely insecure about the fact that it includes at least two of his ex-girlfriends. While they’re nice enough, I’m not used to being friends with exes and it still kind of weirds me out.

I miss our quiet days at home, playing board games and binging TV shows and cooking together. When I suggest we stay home more, or do something just the two of us, he basically brushes it off and says it’s “more fun” to be out and with people — which makes me feel boring. I’m afraid our relationship was really a placeholder to get through COVID and now it’s going to run its course, but I really adore him and I don’t want to lose him. Advice?

Wanda says:

The thing about COVID quarantining was it really leveled the social playing field. With businesses shut down, options were eliminated. The biggest decisions were narrowed down and easy to navigate — like choosing between Hulu and Netflix or whether to go DoorDash or Grubhub. For a relatively brief span of time, we were all living homogenous lives — staying home, staying put, keeping life small and contained. Some hated it, some embraced the peace; some created new habits, and others looked longingly forward to getting back to regular life again.

In some ways, COVID did you wrong. The parameters of the pandemic presented a false front of your guy. It turns out the hunkered-down homebody you fell for is in fact a party-hearty social dynamo. Straight talk: if you want a low-key life of snuggly nights at home, this is not your guy. If you’re honest with yourself, the things you liked most about him and your relationship are fading fast in the harsh light of reality.

My advice: cut your losses and move on. End things on a positive note. Be grateful for the time you had, and for the comfort and fun you shared in getting through a truly awful stretch of modern history. Free yourself up again to dating, and keep your heart and eyes open for a better match, someone who will appreciate a laid-back, coupled-up life that’s more your tempo. You’ll both be happier in the long run.

Wayne says:

Now, let’s not get too carried away here. Your social butterfly boyfriend has pretty much been living/trapped in a bubble with a single person for, like, forever. So don’t take this personally, but of course he’s going to run screaming out of the house as quickly as possible to see friends and party like the old days.

It’s not like he’s cut you out of the equation — you’re still invited. And even homebodies like you have to be itching to get out and have some socially responsible fun, right? I mean, we’ve — almost, maybe, perhaps — survived a pandemic, or at least made it through a really brutal year-and-a-half. ­That’s worth celebrating. And if anything, this crazy time should have given everyone an appreciation for the awesome things in life, like hanging out with besties, eating at our favorite restaurants, chatting up our favorite bartenders, cheering on our favorite teams, and, of course, being with the people who had our back during the darkest days of the pandemic.

He’s just jumping from one extreme — the quiet bubble life with you — of his life to another, the wild party life with everybody. I bet that after a few weeks of going out, he’ll crave a few calm nights on the couch at home with you, his girlfriend in which he has invested a lot of quality time. And soon, there will be some balance and he’ll be comfortably in the middle of both worlds.

Will you ever have him back as a stay-at-home boyfriend? Doubt it — though keep an eye on those variant trends. Can you and him lead your best lives and still be together? Yes, if you cut him, and yourself, some slack, and also understand that just like the last year wasn’t a realistic expectation for daily life forever, neither were a few weeks of him shaking off the hunker-down blues.

[I’m married to an extreme extrovert, and I’m starting to worry that by myself I’ll never be enough]

[My boyfriend and best friend were keeping a past hookup a secret from me. I’m not sure I can get over it.]

There might not be a universal formula for happiness, but for many of us, getting outside helps

Sat, 2021-10-16 19:30

Light from the setting sun illuminates leaves on a tree that have turned golden, photographed in Anchorage on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Years ago, an acquaintance I knew professionally and because we’d once run in overlapping social circles asked me to meet for coffee. He emailed me at work to set it up. I figured he wanted to talk shop.

I showed up at the Williwaw SteamDot in downtown Anchorage curious and open. You’re waiting for the predictable twist in the story (Guess what? You’re on a date!) but it’s more surprising than you think.

After getting our coffees and exchanging small talk, including a little aimless banter about work, he revealed the reason for the meeting.

“You seem like a happy person.”

He was, literally, in pursuit of happiness. He wanted to learn more about building a happier life. I came to mind as someone he could talk to about it. He referenced my outdoorsiness specifically as a symptom of my happiness.

I was so gobsmacked and disarmed at his sincerity and directness that I don’t think I was terribly helpful. I’ve never thought of myself as a wellspring of happiness. I didn’t have answers. I remember asking him lots of questions. Leaving the meeting, I was charmed at his openness and hopeful for him. But I was also left wondering about happiness and what the answer to finding it might be.

I went along with my day, and my weeks, and since then, my years.

In retrospect, he was right to ask me for coffee. I am a happy person. He was also wrong. I am moody, pensive, glowering, and at times — days, weeks — stuck in a foggy gloom of seasonal depression. I frequently overthink. I mull things to death.

But I’ve also often half-joked that my secret to overall happiness is that I’m a little bit stupid. I’ve observed that people who are smarter than me, those who are able to look around the world and really get it, are much more likely to be depressed. To take in the stark, naked facts and emotion of what it means to be human here and now in the grand scheme of things without the buffer of a little dimwittedness would be overwhelming at best. At worst, it would be deeply disquieting. What would it be like to grasp a bigger truth, that no one else around me could also see or connect to? I imagine it would feel isolating. Infuriating.

I’m more or less happy because although I’m aware of larger phenomena, my day to day focus is not mired in horrible things happening. This is mostly luck, because I was not born into terrible or even just passable circumstances, which means I don’t have to focus on them. This is also part choice, because I could pick any number of terrible things happening right now to throw myself into.

I might not be a genius, but I’m also not a jerk. I do cultivate my awareness by paying attention to the news and thoughtful people doing things I or they care about. I give time and money as a matter of course, and try to find work that aligns with my values. I make donations and volunteer. I figure, if everyone pitched in at my level, we would each be happier and the world would be a better place.

So, part of my winning formula for happiness is that I’m a little slow. I use my limited intelligence to strategically not let too much information into my brain, focusing instead on exactly what I can do. This is both calming in its simplicity and probably also alarmingly inadequate for large scale change. Still, I find meaning and purpose in feeling part of something bigger without trying to solve everything.

The other part of my happiness is the tougher piece. What do I do with all of my remaining focus? The stuff of my day to day life?

I don’t think the version of me back in that coffee shop quite knew the answer yet, but today I’m getting closer. When I think about what I look forward to and enjoy most in my days, it’s:

Talking with people. Whether in person, on the phone, or via Zoom; any real meaningful dialogue and connection helps me feel alive.

Seeing things. Smelling, feeling. All the fleeting sensory experiences of existing that I ignore 99% of the time are also what gives my life any sense of texture. I’m becoming better at recognizing when I’m having a “moment.” Instead of steamrolling right past it because the email needs typing or the phone call needs returning, I allow myself to take a minute to inhabit the good feeling — often, simply the afterglow because fleeting, pure joy hits me upside the head when I don’t expect it and lasts for less time than is perceptible.

These moments could be sparked by anything, but typically it is something from the outdoors. Maybe it’s seeing a bird in my garden as I’m on my laptop at work; or it’s driving and noticing the way the sun filters through trees.

What this tells me is I can reliably create opportunities to access happiness by pushing myself to be outdoors. Even though it’s less comfortable than my living room, it is far more likely than my couch to provide me with true moments of happiness and awe. It’s good for me to take in and be part of something bigger than me that I’ll never be able to fully grasp, and to experience sensory awareness of wind, sun on my face; the sound of snow under my skis.

Does this make me happy all the time? Of course not. But, I do get moments. They are fleeting, spontaneous flashes of joy that are over as soon as I notice them. They happen in between all of the other stuff that I do — the overthinking and mulling. I try to pay attention. Over time, I think this is helping me notice and re-wire my other patterning: not getting locked into cycles of ruminating. I have a little more perspective and another, positive point of reference when I need it.

Now, I think happiness is cyclical and more complex than I knew back when I was asked to share my secret. And, I think my definition will continue to evolve over time. My sincere wish for my former colleague and anyone reading this is that we each continue to create conditions for, recognize, and enjoy those brief, dazzling moments as they occur. I think that’s a reasonable wish that can help add up to a happy life.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

Pharmacy students fan out across Anchorage to bring flu shots, COVID-19 boosters to assisted living facilities

Sat, 2021-10-16 18:50

Perlita Ayson, an administrator at a South Anchorage assisted living home, gently rubs the arm of resident Vera West where a flu shot and Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot was administered on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

At a South Anchorage assisted living home, 90-year-old Vera West rested beneath a pile of blankets as a local pharmacy student measured out a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot.

For the past 13 years, pharmacy students at the University of Alaska Anchorage — along with local licensed pharmacists and nurses who volunteer their time to supervise the students — have devoted a couple Saturdays in October to visit assisted living homes around the city, administering flu shots to hundreds of seniors like West.

This year, the students brought along vials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine so they could administer booster shots to vulnerable residents, too.

West’s daughter, Suzanne Jordan, said she’s thankful for the yearly event. Going to a pharmacy or a doctor’s office to access shots “would be impossible without an ambulance or something to get her,” Jordan said. She and other family members often take the opportunity to get flu shots for the whole family, she said.

The participating students have already had vaccination training and are certified to provide vaccinations, said Renee Robinson, an associate professor of pharmacy with the UAA/ISU Doctor of Pharmacy program.

Each year, the students visit anywhere between 150 and 200 homes, mostly in the Anchorage area. They primarily focuses on smaller assisted living homes that often have just a few residents. These homes can especially use the support because they have more limited resources and transportation options, fewer caregivers and often no medical professionals on staff, Robinson said.

“We try to provide that at-home service that they wouldn’t easily be able to get,” Robinson said.

University of Alaska Anchorage pharmacy students and a licensed pharmacist sanitize the outside of their equipment containers before entering a South Anchorage assisted living home to administer flu shots and the Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Flu shots can happen at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccination, and on Saturday, many seniors received both a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 booster — one in each arm.

State health officials have stressed the importance of getting a flu shot this year to protect individual people and Alaska’s vulnerable health care system against yet another highly contagious respiratory illness.

Alaska last year had one of its mildest flu seasons in recorded history, in part because of COVID-19 mitigation measures that cut down on virus transmission, and higher-than-normal flu vaccine uptake.

“The flu is responsible for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths annually in the United States,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, wrote in an opinion piece this week. “The flu shot is safe, significantly reduces your chance of getting the flu and helps prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death associated with flu.”

Older adults are especially susceptible to severe illness from the flu because their immune systems aren’t as strong.

Jacob Jordan, a University of Alaska Anchorage pharmacy student, draws a dose of the influenza vaccine to be administered to residents in a South Anchorage assisted living home on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

While some pharmacists around the state have reported hostility and harassment from people who don’t want COVID-19 vaccines, Robinson that the students visiting assisted living homes have so far “had a lot of support, and people happy we’re there,” she said.

“A majority of residents in assisted living homes are high risk, so they’re a little more open to getting vaccinated,” she said.

Pharmacists often act as educators, addressing misinformation and answering questions people might have about vaccines.

“I think being in that safe environment helps to have that fruitful discussion,” Robinson said about talking with people at their homes.

University of Alaska Anchorage pharmacy student Janel Abo administers a vaccine to Emily Wilson, a resident at a South Anchorage assisted living home, on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

West got her initial COVID-19 vaccinations earlier this year, and Jordan, her daughter, said that was a joyful time because the vaccine made it possible for her to start visiting her mother again.

Before the pandemic, she’d been visiting her mother most evenings after she got off work. For most of 2020, visits with her mom were limited to FaceTime, “but what she really wanted and needed was touch,” Jordan said. “And with the little screen, it didn’t really work. She didn’t understand why I wasn’t visiting.”

West is one of thousands of Alaskans who recently became eligible for COVID-19 booster shots. That group includes those who received their second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine more than six months ago and either: 1) are 65 or older, 2) live or work in high-risk settings or 3) have certain underlying medical conditions.

The FDA and CDC recommendations for the booster shot for higher-risk populations were based on some studies that have shown the effectiveness of the vaccine may decrease over time.

When the pharmacy students offered a booster shot on Saturday, Jordan was on board with her mother receiving one.

“Whatever it takes to keep her safe,” she said.

Perlita Ayson, an administrator at a South Anchorage assisted living home, pulls a blanket up to cover resident Vera West’s arm after West received a flu shot and Pfizer COVID-19 booster shot at a South Anchorage assisted living home on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Trying to hit a moving target: How do we keep the state’s moose population healthy?

Sat, 2021-10-16 18:16

A moose crosses the Richardson Highway north of Glennallen on May 15, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Moose are in mid-rut in most areas of the Interior. The early snow has made moose readily visible along the Denali Highway and the Richardson. Don’t forget tracks. Moose can’t hide their tracks. The result is that not just wildlife managers have the ability to spot and count moose from the air; anyone who chooses to get out in the field can get a decent handle on moose numbers in a given area.

Granted, a snowmobile trip into ones favorite hunting area is not a decent indicator of overall moose population in a unit or sub-unit. However, if a number of folks are out in the field, and take the information they have garnered to their local Fish and Game advisory meeting, a picture may emerge that can indicate local trends.

Moose get studied to death. Anyone involved with Board of Game decisions, or ADF&G decisions on how to stabilize moose populations is very aware of how many times the “wheel” has been re-invented. Each new cycle of management swears that they are now right and the previous protocols were all established on limited information. That is undoubtedly true to some extent. It will continue to be true as we move forward with ungulate management.

There have been many comparisons made with Scandinavian moose management and the direction of our management in Alaska. This is an apples and oranges relationship. Feed availability, access to hunt areas, climate differences and predator impacts show little or no similarities to Alaskan management. Virtually every moose in Sweden lives within a half-mile of a maintained road and has a field to feed in. And how many bears eat moose calves in that country? Forget comparing management.

Winter kill and predators are the biggest unknowns for our Alaskan moose. The hunter success rate is relatively poor in Alaska. We have many hunters and many restrictions as to what animal we can legally take. Seasons are short. Access is poor over most of the hunt areas, resulting in some crowded conditions in areas that most hunters can reach.

Everyone has an ATV; thus trail systems often have more traffic than the main highway. There is no solving that problem. My guess is 90% of hunters, statewide, have road access to under a third of the state’s moose population. This results in a continuing headache for game management. The solution for the past thirty years, has been antler restrictions and limited cow hunts. The strategy seems to be working reasonably well. Hunters have grudgingly come to accept these solutions.

Predator control has also come to be an accepted tool, though not an extremely popular one. We can kill bears and wolves in an effort to provide more moose for humans. We have no real idea of the long-term effects of this. We can shoot many of our “over fifty” moose, plus a goodly number of yearling spike-fork moose. We have no idea of the long term effects of that management tool either.

Common sense tells us that killing a big portion of our larger animals will eventually take a toll on that portion of the gene pool. We don’t eat the antlers, so how important is that really? Predator control is a different question altogether.

Wolves don’t just kill a moose and eat it. Their kill and much of what they kill goes to feed other carnivores in the field. Foxes, wolverines and ravens are all heavily dependent on a healthy wolf population. Wolves take a cross-section of moose available in any given area. In that, they can be beneficial to the overall health of a moose herd.

Bears are a different issue. The primary target of bears, whether they are black bear or grizzlies, are calves. Calf survival is one of the primary keys to successful moose recruitment. Wolf control can, and is done primarily from the air by private pilots under terms of a permit. That is not going to happen with grizzly bears. Liberal spring bear hunts have not proved to be a solution to bear predation.

At this time there does not seem to be a clear answer to the absolute health of our Alaskan moose population. I suspect there may never be. However, as hunters and outdoorsmen, whether one chooses to hunt or not, it is important to provide our input on ideas and potential answers we may have. Attend your local advisory meetings. Stop in at Board of Game meetings and provide your testimony. Honest, open discussion always has the best chance of success.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.