Communities around Alaska canceled Fourth of July celebrations to slow COVID-19. Now unsanctioned events are replacing them.
Craft and food vendors and their customers gather on South Valley Way in Palmer for the Friday Fling event on June 26. The Valley Freedom Festival, to be held in Palmer over two days in celebration of the Independence Day holiday, sprang up after Wasilla canceled its traditional Fourth of July celebration. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
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As Alaska’s COVID-19 case counts soared, Anchorage and almost every community around the state canceled Independence Day celebrations to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Now popping up are alternative celebrations such as parades, but also a sing-along and a pie-eating contest — just the type of close-up activities officials wanted to avoid to minimize the potential spread of infection.
An organizer urged people in Homer to come out to a Fourth of July march with a Facebook post: “I say we bring our flags our drums and our guns out.” In Juneau, where local officials discouraged large social gatherings, plans included an unpermitted parade.
And in Palmer, hundreds are expected to celebrate the holiday with the two-day Valley Freedom Festival that features vendors, a pie-eating contest and a parade down Palmer’s main street — with full support of the city’s mayor despite local concerns.
“There are a lot of people that want to get out and celebrate the Fourth of July,” Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries said Monday. “There will be plenty of social distancing. People will be able to wear masks if they want to.”
DeVries said she supported the event for the same reason she supported a Black Lives Matter rally in early June with a large crowd that included Second Amendment supporters.
“People have a right to freely assemble,” she said. “So I’m standing with that.”
Palmer’s weekly “Friday Flings” are still happening, a summer tradition with food trucks, vendor booths and music that draw crowds to a fairly restricted area. Health officials do say that outdoor events are preferable to people packed together indoors.
But some Palmer residents are worried that crowds at the weekend celebration could bring more COVID-19 that eventually spreads to people who don’t even choose to attend.
Someone posted a question on a popular local Facebook group on Wednesday: “Is anyone else worried that the crowds coming to Palmer from other communities might exacerbate the situation here in our little town?”
The site’s administrator shut off comments, saying the almost 40 responses generated within 20 minutes violated guidelines banning “snarky” language.
Mat-Su cases surging
Alaska’s COVID-19 cases rose after Memorial Day weekend gatherings, state health officials say. Now case counts are surging again and the active infection rate hits new highs daily.
Mat-Su this week was experiencing a spike in cases, especially in the cities of Palmer and Wasilla. The reported count in Mat-Su residents rose to 102 by Thursday — an increase of 20 cases in two days.
State officials said the rising cases will eventually lead to more hospitalizations and implored safe practices as Alaskans geared up for the holiday weekend ahead.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy, when asked about the alternative Fourth of July events, urged participants to practice social distancing and wear masks, a step his administration has not required.
“For folks that are going to be in large congregations, groups, it’s just a fact when you get closer together, you increase the risk of spreading this virus,” Dunleavy said Tuesday.
The top emergency doctor at the only hospital in Mat-Su issued a grim warning this week about the importance of wearing masks, citing a large study showing 8% weekly growth of infections in countries with widespread masking compared to 54% in those without.
Dr. Thomas Quimby saw a middle-aged COVID-19 patient recently. The patient had been sick for a week yet was still getting sicker.
Quimby, the emergency department director at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, said the patient was having trouble breathing. An X-ray revealed telltale spots on their lungs.
At that point the person didn’t need oxygen, he said. But there was nothing else the doctor could do. He feared the patient would need to be admitted in the future.
“That was a really awful feeling to look at this person and see how they were suffering and to just be helpless as a clinician,” Quimby said at a community briefing Wednesday. “I just want to remind everyone: that’s still this disease that we’re dealing with.”
‘Let Freedom Ring’
The Valley Freedom Festival arose after Wasilla canceled its traditional Fourth of July celebration, organizers say.
“Valley residents rose up and demanded something be done,” the event website says. “The Valley is an independent place, made up of people who are smart, caring, resilient, and FREE. The Valley Freedom Festival is a testament to the people of the Valley and our demand to Let Freedom Ring.”
Organizer Haylee Kurka, a local business owner, said she’s one of numerous businesspeople putting on the event with their own money.
Kurka on Wednesday said she’s expecting attendance numbers anywhere from “the high hundreds to a couple thousand,” given the public event cancellations around Southcentral.
Matanuska Peak is visible from downtown Palmer on Tuesday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
The Freedom Festival will station food trucks and vendors in the parking lot of the MTA Events Center near Palmer’s middle school. The schedule includes a pie-eating contest, sing-along, national cloggers and the big parade down Palmer’s main street on Saturday.
There are more than 20 floats signed up to take part in the parade.
Attendees are encouraged to bring “lawn chairs, picnic blankets, good attitude, and cheerful heart,” the event site says.
They are not required to wear masks nor follow other COVID-19 mandates, restrictions or dictates.
Asked how organizers are dealing with surging numbers of coronavirus cases, Kurka said the event is entirely outdoors, and it has a mitigation plan based on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the state’s new cases are associated with bars and other indoor spaces, health officials say.
“We’re also recognizing you do have a personal responsibility,” Kurka said. “If you don’t want to be potentially exposed to the virus, we would think that people wouldn’t attend. There’s not going to be much other than that ... it’s definitely based on what people feel comfortable with.”
Palmer issued a special-events permit on June 12 but is not planning to provide additional personnel, according to Palmer City Manager John Moosey. Organizers met with public works officials and the police chief.
Palmer falls within the Mat-Su Borough, but the borough lacks authority to order masks at an event like this, Borough Mayor Vern Halter said. That’s up to the mayor of Palmer, who has the authority to require masks or restrict events.
Halter said he’d “highly recommend” people attending wear masks.
“A big parade, people close together — it’s probably the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” he said.
The annual Glacier View Fourth of July (Car Launch) is also going on as scheduled out the Glenn Highway. The Mat-Su events are among the few scheduled holiday festivities.
‘Too big of a risk'
Palmer’s neighboring city of Wasilla canceled Fourth of July plans two months ago. That decision was made as much over the unknowns surrounding this year’s fire danger as the threat of the pandemic, Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said this week.
But given the resurgence of the novel coronavirus, Cottle said he wouldn’t be comfortable approving a parade in the narrow confines of the city’s 1-mile route.
“With the outbreaks that we’re having now, you can’t put 7,000 to 10,000 people on Main Street shoulder to shoulder and have to worry about social distancing, stuff like that,” Cottle said Monday. “I can’t do that. That’s too big of a risk.”
Anchorage and most other communities canceled Independence Day celebrations ahead of the weekend.
Lawmakers in Juneau this week voted against an emergency ordinance that would have allowed fireworks to go ahead this weekend.
Officials in Seward this week canceled Fourth of July events entirely and implemented a series of measures on mask-wearing, gathering sizes and business capacity amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in that Kenai Peninsula city.
Homer’s Chamber of Commerce canceled that community’s parade “fairly early on in this whole COVID situation,” said chamber director Brad Anderson, adding the decision seemed right this week given the recent uptick in case numbers,
The parade can draw more than a thousand people. But a number of participants didn’t feel comfortable even getting close together enough to build the floats, Anderson said.
The chamber also planned to celebrate first responders and health care workers with the parade, he said. “They were the ones that said, ‘Hey look, in bringing people together, this probably isn’t the right direction for us this year.‘”
An Anchor Point man is proposing an alternate parade Saturday from the elementary school to the Homer Spit, according to a widely viewed post on a local Facebook group that had attracted hundreds of comments. Organizer Matthew Mitchell recommended that route so people could spread out but still watch the bikes, cars, trucks, jeeps, tractors “or other parade vehicle” go by.
“This call out is to all Veterans, Patriots and pure-blooded Americans,” Mitchell posted Sunday. “This parade is for the people by the people of Free men and women. Who are ready to get off the sidelines and show we will not stand for or tolerate dictatorship or tyranny over our Freedom. We are Free People.”
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FILE - This April 2, 2012, file photo shows the front entrance of the Alaska state Capitol building in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (Becky Bohrer/)
We stand together with Alaskans who support a full Permanent Fund dividend based on the law. For years, we have worked and fought for following the PFD statute, no matter how intense the pushback. We now stand in strong opposition to Ballot Measure 1, which would raise state oil taxes, because the initiative threatens the dividend in the long term.
How does Ballot Measure 1 jeopardize the PFD, and not “save and protect” it, not ensure “larger PFDsm” as the ballot measure promoters claim?
Economics 101: If dollars used as up-front capital to develop fields are sucked up in taxes, the fields will not be developed. If taxes are lower elsewhere, businesses will shift their focus elsewhere.
Based on this knowledge, if Ballot Measure 1 were to pass, how would things unfold in Alaska? Initially, oil revenues collected by the state would increase, but in a mere few years, oil revenues would drastically drop. Therefore, Alaskans, Ballot Measure 1 puts your PFD at tremendous risk.
If we want full PFDs into the future, we must oppose Ballot Measure 1.
Anyone who pays attention knows oil prices have cratered and state revenues have slumped, but they also know we have not reduced government operations spending to live within our means. We have simply slashed dividends to close our budget deficits. The PFD problem has not been our oil tax policy; the PFD problem has been a lack of spending restraint.
Case in point? Most of the proponents for Ballot Measure 1 went along with reducing the PFD with barely a peep the past few years, but hollered loudly and fought against any spending reductions. Most have never been and never will be true defenders of the PFD. They are not interested in collecting more oil revenues for PFDs. What is so incredibly ironic is that their tax initiative not only puts the PFD at risk in a few years, but it also puts at risk the revenues needed for state operational and capital expenses.
The bottom line on the initiative? When you increase a business’ costs in a field by 150%-300% overnight, bad things follow. Sure, you might squeeze a few extra pennies out of the oil industry in the short term, but travel down the road a few years and revenue will drop like a rock when companies pull up stakes and take their dollars to more business-friendly states. Oil production will re-enter a steep decline, and Alaskans will suffer when less oil moving down the pipeline results in less revenue. Based on recent actions, any money the Legislature gets its hands on will go to more government spending, not for PFDs. So, if we pass Ballot Measure 1, we get less investment in the private sector, less oil, less revenue and smaller PFDs.
We have stood firmly in the fight for the PFD not to be subject to the whims of politicians from year to year. We have not abandoned that fight. Our stand in this battle against Ballot Measure 1 is to preserve incoming oil revenue, to prevent a drastic drop in a few years of production and revenues, and is part of our stand for the full PFD. Join us in rejecting Ballot Measure 1 and voting no on it this November.
Sen. Shelley Hughes is a 44-year Alaskan. She served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2012-2016 and currently serves in the Alaska State Senate.
Sen. Mia Costello, a Republican, represents Jewel Lake, Kincaid, Turnagain, Lake Hood, Sand Lake, Spenard, Dimond and Campbell Lake in the Alaska Legislature.
Rep. Mike Prax, appointed in 2020, represents North Pole in the Alaska House of Representatives.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
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With masks now required in Anchorage’s indoor public spaces, the city is distributing 16,500 face coverings to those who can’t acquire them on their own.
“When Mayor Berkowitz released Emergency Order 13, mandating face coverings in public buildings, we wanted to be sure as many municipal residents as possible had access to a mask,” Municipal Manager Bill Falsey said. “We strategically partnered with community groups and other municipal departments to help distribute masks to those who otherwise may not be able to get one.”
The masks will be distributed by Catholic Social Services, the Anchorage Public Transportation Department, the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, the Salvation Army, the Business Boutique and the Anchorage Community Land Trust.
The organizations will hand them out as needed to people who rely on their services, said Audrey Gray, spokeswoman for the Anchorage Emergency Operations Center.
For example, if someone gets on a bus without a mask, one will be given to them, Gray said.
“We looked at places that serve people who might not otherwise be able to get a mask,” Gray said.
The masks are a mix of cloth and disposable face coverings, all donated to the city during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They were originally going to be given to health care workers but didn’t fit their specific needs, Gray said.
The city plans to give out 20,000 more masks, but there isn’t a date set for a second distribution, she said.
Working with other organizations to distribute the masks works much better than the city trying to have a central distribution location, according to Gray.
“It’s just very labor intensive and takes a lot of staffing to do that,” she said.
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Vice President Mike Pence (left) and Gov. Greg Abbott walk in before a press gaggle on the coronavirus pandemic at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center on Sunday, June 28, 2020, in Dallas. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News/TNS) (Juan Figueroa/)
AUSTIN, Texas — As cases of the coronavirus surge to record highs in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered the state’s residents to wear face masks in public in counties with outbreaks of COVID-19. Abbott also gave local officials power to restrict outdoor gatherings with more than 10 people ahead of the holiday weekend.
“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”
The move is a reversal for Abbott, who in April blocked local officials from penalizing people who don't wear masks. Those who don't follow Abbott's latest order first face a warning, and then fines of up to $250 for any subsequent offense.
The order, which takes effect Friday at noon, requires people over age 10 to wear masks inside businesses and in outdoor public spaces when it's not feasible to stay 6 feet apart from others. There are some exceptions, including for people who are eating, drinking, exercising, voting or worshipping. The requirements apply only in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases.
Local leaders have pressed Abbott for stricter mask requirements as cases soar.
On Thursday, Dallas County reported more than 700 new positive cases, far surpassing the previous single day record. Dallas County Clay Jenkins urged people to avoid large gatherings over the holiday weekend.
"The situation we have right now is significant & accelerating community spread," he said on Twitter.
Now that many businesses have reopened, masking and social distancing are among the only tools left to slow the spread.
Since so many infected people have mild or no symptoms, universal mask use can help slow transmission of the virus, public health experts say. They also offer some protection to the person wearing one.
Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said Abbott's order is "too little too late."
"This should have happened weeks ago," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending in April that everyone wear a mask of cloth face covering when they can't be distanced from others. But leaders in Texas and in Washington, D.C., have been slow to fully embrace the policy.
After saying he didn't think masks were for him, and deriding a journalist for wearing one at his news conference, President Donald Trump changed his tone on Wednesday. Trump said he is "all for masks," which he thinks make him look like the Lone Ranger.
As new cases and hospitalizations climbed to record highs in June, Abbott has pleaded with people to wear face coverings. He began wearing a mask during public appearances in late May and in recent television appearances has held up his own mask to emphasize the importance.
He recently agreed that cities and counties could require masks inside businesses. But while Dallas County and others adopted the policy, other counties have not, leading to a patchwork of rules.
Before Thursday, some local leaders challenged Abbott's order that blocked cities and counties from penalizing people who do not wear a mask in public.
The Round Rock City Council on Monday adopted an emergency ordinance that orders people to wear masks in public and fines those who do not.
The mandates have proven unpopular with some conservatives in Texas, who say requirements to wear masks infringe on their freedoms.
Karlie Anderson carries her purchases away from Gorilla Fireworks in Houston on Tuesday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
With Fourth of July fireworks shows across Alaska canceled because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19, officials are anticipating more Alaskans will light up the sky with personally purchased bottle rockets and sparklers.
Personal fireworks use is banned in most communities in Southcentral Alaska, as well as in state parks and on public land. But reports of fireworks going off on the Fourth of July pop up every year throughout the region, causing concern for some fire officials during Alaska’s peak wildfire season.
The city of Houston in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is an exception to the prohibition, with fireworks permitted on private land with landowner permission.
Robert Hall, owner of Gorilla Fireworks in Houston, said that more families seem to be planning their own celebrations this year as nearly every large public event in the state has been canceled. He said he’s seeing a significant number of smaller sales this year because families are planning to celebrate on their own.
“People are just itching to go out and do something that they can do with their family and a small group outside,” Hall said. “It’s a wonderful way to kind of celebrate their freedom. And so we’re finding that customer excitement is higher than ever, because they finally get to go do something.”
Gorilla Fireworks manager Jackie Johnson helps a customer on Tuesday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Customers came in waves Tuesday afternoon to buy fireworks, some spending hundreds of dollars. Manager Jackie Johnson said she believed sales would pick up this week as Alaskans start receiving their Permanent Fund dividends.
Hall knows that many of the fireworks he sells leave the Houston area, but he said he hopes customers are responsible while using them, both for their own safety and so they prevent wildfires. He said he’s been communicating frequently with fire officials, who are concerned the lack of traditional events and gatherings may lead to an increased number of people purchasing and lighting off fireworks from home — whether or not it’s legal.
Anchorage Fire Marshal Brian Dean said that around the Independence Day holiday, firefighters respond to “a ton of calls every year.” The Municipality of Anchorage bans the use of all fireworks, even sparklers, during the holiday and offenders can face fines of several hundred dollars.
In the Mat-Su, Fire Deputy Director Brian Davis said there are typically more emergency calls during any holiday weekend because there are more people traveling to the borough to recreate outdoors. He said he believes that the people who normally light off fireworks in areas where it’s not allowed will likely continue to do so, but he hopes there won’t be more people going against regulations this year than in previous years.
Gorilla Fireworks saw steady sales at their booth along the Parks Highway in Houston on Tuesday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gorilla Fireworks employee Laura Kelly helps a customer make selections at the booth on the Parks Highway. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Shelves are stocked at Gorilla Fireworks on Tuesday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gorilla Fireworks, which occupies a long wooden booth on a dirt and gravel lot along the Parks Highway, has implemented pandemic precautions. Hanging plexiglass barriers divide cashiers and customers, and Hall said he ordered thousands of disposable masks to ensure there would be enough to keep customers safe. He even masked the large inflatable gorillas outside the booth, he said.
Last year, Gorilla Fireworks didn’t open for the Fourth of July holiday because of wildfires throughout the state, Hall said. He hasn’t been advertising fireworks sales this year because of concerns that there may be an excess number of fireworks going off in areas where they’re banned.
Alaska is in prime wildfire season, and Division of Forestry spokesman Tim Mowry said that conditions are expected to dry out across Southcentral as the weekend approaches. Wildfire danger decreased in Interior Alaska during the last few weeks because of significant rainfall, Mowry said. But high temperatures are expected to continue into the weekend, which Mowry said could lead to somewhat dry conditions in Southcentral that could aggravate fire risks.
“We get fires that start every year from fireworks — not just on the Fourth of July, but obviously there’s more people doing that than ... there would normally,” he said.
Whatever Alaskans choose to do on the Fourth of July, fire officials agree that they hope people are responsible and safe — not just with regard to wildfires, but also driving and recreating. Davis, with the Mat-Su Borough, said roads will be busier this weekend and he wants anyone recreating on the water to remember to wear a personal flotation device.
Mowry noted that campfires and grills can also cause fires, and he said it’s important that any fire is thoroughly extinguished before left unattended.
“We just want people to be safe, not just in terms of wildfires but for their own safety, and for their children’s safety too,” he said.
Anchorage Daily News visual journalist Marc Lester contributed reporting.
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A sign near the entrance to Over the Rainbow toy store in Anchorage alerts customers to a mask requirement on June 29, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
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As COVID-19 surges around the nation, Alaska is seeing a continued swell of new cases.
Between residents and non-Alaskans, the state on Thursday reported a new daily high of 50 new virus cases, most of which were concentrated in Southcentral Alaska.
For much of May, Alaska had few new cases of the virus that’s been tied to more than 100,000 deaths nationwide. Then the state lifted almost all of its pandemic restrictions on businesses and gatherings on May 22. At the end of May and into June, COVID-19 cases quickly sprang up again throughout the state.
There were no new deaths or hospitalizations of people confirmed to have the virus, according to the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard. A total of 14 Alaskans have died with the virus, including four who were out of state at the time.
The Municipality of Anchorage saw the largest influx of new cases reported Thursday, with 13 more cases among Anchorage residents, one involving an Eagle River resident, one involving a Chugiak resident, and one in an out-of-state visitor to Anchorage. Earlier this week, the municipality implemented mandatory mask wearing in most indoor public spaces in response to the continued rise in cases.
On Wednesday, Anchorage health officials said the city had reached its maximum capacity to conduct contact tracing. New cases in the municipality involve several people who had contact with dozens of people, while earlier in the pandemic, cases typically involved people with just a few close contacts.
“In this last week, we’ve a lot of cases that are associated with locations where there’s well over 100 people that they may have interacted with, and we can’t trace or contact any of them,” Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said.
On Thursday, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough saw a spike in cases among residents there, with nine people from Wasilla testing positive as well as four people from Palmer and one from Big Lake.
And in Seward, new cases of the illness continued to climb Thursday amid an outbreak there, with the state reporting three new cases involving residents and three among visitors. Ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, the city instituted several protective measures, including the mandatory wearing of face coverings in indoor public spaces and capacity limits for local businesses.
The rest of the new COVID-19 cases among Alaskans dot the state, with one case each among residents of Fairbanks, North Pole, a smaller community on the northern Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak and Sitka. Two Tok residents also tested positive for the virus.
Seafood industry workers from out of state were involved in two new cases in Dillingham, one in Unalaska and one in the Bristol Bay and Lake & Peninsula boroughs reported Thursday.
Since Monday, nine seafood workers at a plant in Naknek within the Bristol Bay Borough tested positive for COVID-19 during routine screening, said Mary Swain, executive director of the Camai Community Health Center. None of the workers had symptoms and had been in quarantine, she said. Swain said she expected more workers who tested positive to head to Anchorage to finish isolating there.
There were also nonresident cases reported among people in Haines, Kodiak and Petersburg on Thursday.
In total, there are 626 active cases of the virus among both residents and visitors in Alaska, according to data from the state’s health department updated Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, 1,017 Alaskans and 209 people from out of state have tested positive for COVID-19.
Nearly 40% of Alaska’s 1,017 resident cases have occurred in people in their 20s and 30s, state data showed Thursday.
Lined with historic buildings on each side, pedestrians cross Fourth Avenue in downtown Seward on Monday, August 4, 2014. (ADN archive)
The City of Seward, which normally swells with visitors for the Fourth of July, has approved a face covering rule and other temporary restrictions to stem a coronavirus outbreak.
The city council on Wednesday night unanimously approved emergency regulations that require face coverings in indoor public spaces, ban large gatherings and limit capacity in businesses and churches. The city is also limiting recreational camping capacity at popular Resurrection Bay campgrounds to half.
Seward is experiencing a sudden jump in new daily COVID-19 case counts — at least some of them associated with downtown bars — as confirmed positive cases also rise around the state.
Local authorities this week canceled all holiday events. More than a dozen downtown businesses voluntarily closed their doors with plans to keep them shut through the holiday weekend.
The city council on Wednesday evening approved an emergency regulation on face coverings, requiring that people cover their nose and mouth “in buildings open to the public when they cannot maintain six feet of space between themselves and individuals outside their household.”
The order exempts children 4 and younger, people with trouble breathing and those with medical conditions that prevent them from covering their faces.
People can take off their masks to eat and drink but need to wear them otherwise, such as when they’re entering or leaving an establishment, officials say. They don’t have to wear them while “receiving lawful services that cannot be adequately performed while the recipient is wearing a facial covering,” the regulation states.
The council enacted another emergency regulation limiting all city-owned campgrounds to half capacity for recreational camping — the city won’t take reservations beyond that level — but said the campgrounds are still open for use by Seward-area workers and employees.
The city’s waterfront campground is at about half capacity now, according to city clerk Brenda Ballou. Another one is almost full, and a third has 30 out of 36 spaces occupied, Ballou said. The city will allow those campers to stay but won’t take new reservations over 50% capacity after that. It wasn’t immediately clear how many city workers are camping.
Restaurants, bars, sightseeing and wildlife cruises, retail stores and churches must limit indoor seating to 10 people or no more than half capacity, whichever is greater.
Another regulation bans gatherings of 20 or more people, excluding gatherings legal under the seating capacity rule or for “the purpose of exercising Constitutional rights.”
The restrictions are in place for 30 days.
Several officials, including Mayor Christy Terry, defended the steps as way to avoid an all-encompassing shutdown.
Public health officials say they’ve confirmed about 30 new cases in Seward since early last week. The city announced another seven new cases on Wednesday. Until the outbreak, Seward had few virus cases: Three Seward residents had tested positive between March and early June.
At this stage in the pandemic, there are no easy answers in dealing with COVID-19, Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, told the council.
“The easy decisions have been made and the hard ones are here now,” Zink said, calling the virus “incredibly contagious” and humbling in the speed of its spread. “It’s important to remember that it does take a while to see those effects in the hospital and hospitalized patients.”
The council met in a special session Thursday. The mayor personally read 46 written comments into the record, taking a few by phone.
Some residents begged the council to protect the health of the community, or condemned them for not doing so sooner. Others criticized any attempt to mandate face coverings and restrict businesses. A few pointed out that, despite the sudden jump in local cases, they had heard no reports of severe illness linked to COVID-19 in the community.
Jennifer Appel told the council that masks breed germs, the rising count in Seward was only because so many people were getting tested, and that Americans should be free to choose their own risk levels and make their own choices.
“Who gave the government the power over churches, power over our personal lives?” Appel testified. “They want to make us afraid of everyone else in the name of safety.”
Tim Mullet told the council they didn’t enact policies restricting high-risk activities soon enough.
“You are a disappointment,” Mullet testified. “This is your fault. Your decisions have made this outbreak possible.”
The first Seward cases associated with the outbreak surfaced last week. Officials recommended tests for anyone who had frequented two local establishments, the Seward Alehouse and Yukon Bar, early last week.
Bars are “very high-risk situations,” state epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin told the council Wednesday. People drink and stop social distancing, and often sit close together. If it’s a small bar and people are singing, the risk of infection goes up.
A large tour operator on the waterfront shut down temporarily this week after two employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Kenai Fjords Tours, one of several companies offering wildlife and glacier cruises on the Resurrection Bay waterfront, temporarily halted operations due to confirmed cases in two employees. The company expects to reopen July 10.
Kenai Fjords Tours is recommending anyone who took a cruise in the past week contact local health care providers and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
Operations at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge, with the same owner as the tour company, will also be paused until July 8.
Positive cases among employees has also prompted the cancellation of lodging and activities at waterfront outfitter Miller’s Landing until July 6 at the earliest, according to a Facebook post from the Miller family, who had all staff get tested last weekend.
The Millers plan to retest their staff and will begin a plan to resume operations once they feel it’s safe to do so, they wrote. The closure could “very well” last longer than Monday.
“This absolutely is the last thing we want to do,” the Miller’s Landing website says. “The community is closing down in general, the town has cancelled the 4th of July celebration, and operating seems like a brash and unnecessary risk to those who live and work in the area.”
FILE - In this June 4, 2020 file photo, a pedestrian wearing a mask walks past a reader board advertising a job opening for a remodeling company, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) (Elaine Thompson/)
WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy added a record 4.8 million jobs in June, according to federal data released Thursday, but a surge in new infections and a spate of new closings threatens the nascent recovery.
Two key federal measurements showed the precarious place the economy finds itself in three and a half months into the pandemic as the country struggles to hire back the more than 20 million workers who lost their jobs in March and April. While companies have continued to reopen, a large number of Americans are finding their jobs are no longer available.
The unemployment rate in June was 11.1 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said, down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still far above the 3.5 percent level notched in February.
And another 1.4 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, a stubbornly high level that shows how many people are struggling to find work. The Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the coronavirus pandemic gave such a shock to the labor market that it would not fully recover for more than 10 years.
President Donald Trump touted the numbers at a news conference called shortly after they were released, saying they were a sign that "America's economy is now roaring back to life like nobody has ever seen before."
"All of this incredible news is the result of historic actions my administration has taken," the President said.
But his top aides acknowledged there was still a long way to go.
"I think we have a lot more work to do, I get that," National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said.
The stock market initially rose on the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 400 points, or 1.5 percent, before retreating slightly for a net gain of around 200 by late afternoon.
Economists called the numbers encouraging, saying they were a sign that the massive financial incentives that Congress passed appeared to have succeeded at stanching even greater job loss.
But the good news came with a couple of significant asterisks: it was gathered the week of June 12, before the deluge of coronavirus cases sent closures and shutdowns cascading across states and counties across the country anew. The country was reporting less than 25,000 new cases a day during that time period, but cases have shot up since then, to an average of more than 40,000 a day this week.
"The pandemic pushed us into a very deep economic hole," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "We can certainly fall back."
The data also show that more than 14.7 million people are still out of work, leaving the country with an unemployment rate higher than any point during the Great Recession.
The unemployment insurance data, based on statewide claims that are separate from the survey that informs the jobs report, paints an even less sanguine picture.
Another 1.4 million people filed unemployment claims for the first time last week as many businesses reversed themselves and closed again during the surge in coronavirus cases - the 15th straight week of unemployment claims that exceeded 1 million, a sign that the economic recovery has not taken hold for many Americans.
More than 19 million people are still receiving unemployment benefits.
The strong month of job gains was driven by robust hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector, with 2.1 million additional jobs added, accounting for about 40 percent of the total gained for the month. Food services and drinking establishments saw their payrolls swell by 1.5 million people, but they still remain 3.1 million lower than before the pandemic.
These are the industries that are getting hit hard in the past two weeks by new closings, as a numbers of states shuttered bars and restricted restaurant service as they try to get the case surge under control.
The data bring into sharper focus the turmoil facing the U.S. economy after many businesses sent workers home in March during the beginning of the spike in deaths caused by the virus.
Many companies began rehiring in May and June, but there are signs that some workers are getting laid off again. Others technically remain employed but are working drastically reduced schedules - more than 9 million workers reported working part time because of economic reasons, more than double the level in February before the pandemic. Still a participation rate of 61.5 percent in June, slightly up from April and May but nearly a percentage point below February, indicates that others may be leaving the labor force all together - an echo of the deep economic turbulence in the Great Recession.
Economists said there are other reasons to be concerned as incentives for businesses to retain employees and some benefits that have allowed people out of work to stay afloat financially are winding down without more federal action.
Federal and state officials struggled to time their reopening efforts in April and May, in some cases ignoring warnings from public health officials. Now, cases in some of the states that reopened the fastest, or with the loosest restrictions, are seeing the biggest spikes, such as Florida, Arizona, and South Carolina.
In recent days, Texas shut down all bars just weeks after they had reopened. California announced the closure of bars and indoor dining in 19 counties, more than 70 percent of the state. And at least nine other states have slowed or reversed their reopenings. Restaurant bookings have begun to sink in hard-hit states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona. Job postings on the Indeed website, though up from a low of 39 percent, are still down 24 percent from last year.
Many workers are starting to report being laid off or furloughed for a second time in just a few months.
But those effects will not be captured in these reports for the most part.
In the May jobs report, there was a particular focus on a misclassification error the Bureau of Labor Statistics said it made that marred how it calculated the unemployment rate. On Thursday, it said that issue had been mostly been fixed.
The BLS said the true unemployment rate is probably closer to 12.1 percent, 1 percentage point higher than the official rate it gave. Last month, it said the unemployment rate was 13.3 percent, but the data collection error had artificially lowered it from 16.3 percent. In April, the 14.7 percent official rate was likely closer to 19.7 percent.
The disconnect stems from the way surveyors interview people about their job status, as many Americans are unclear about whether they have actually been laid off or just sent home temporarily.
There are other strains on the economy. Only a third of the 22 million Americans who lost their jobs in March and April have returned to work so far. The number of people who reported permanently losing a job rose by 588,000 in June, bringing the total since February to 2.9 million
"It's becoming clearer that some of what people hoped were temporary layoffs are now turning into permanent layoffs," said Donald Marron, an economist at the Urban Institute.
The new unemployment claims, a different measurement which has stagnated around 1.4-1.5 million a week during the last month, remain at more than double the pre-pandemic record, pointing to the magnitude of the crisis. With the supplemental insurance given to gig and self-employed workers, that number was well over 2 million last week.
"I would take solace with these numbers but I wouldn't pop any champagne," Zandi said. "It's ten times what you would see in a well-functioning economy."
At the start of the pandemic, most workers believed they would quickly be rehired, but as the deadly virus continues to be a danger, more and more businesses are telling workers they will never get their old job back.
The job loss has had a disproportionate affect on people of color as well.
The jobless rate for black people is 15.4 percent and 13.8 percent for Asians. For Latinos, the jobless rate is 14.5 percent.
Federal legislators continue to wrangle over proposals that would continue or extend some of the emergency unemployment benefits that will run out by the end of July. Democrats and the White House are at odds over how to authorize the funds even though there are large numbers of people still out of work.
White House officials told outside advisers on Thursday that the jobs report makes it less likely they will approve legislation that would cost as much as $2 trillion or $3 trillion, according to Stephen Moore, a conservative close to the White House. Moore said the jobs report is also likely to shore up White House opposition to extending the significant increase in unemployment benefits approved by Congress in March.
"There will be a phase four, but this makes the case in their eyes for a smaller one and makes even stronger the case for not extending the unemployment benefits," Moore said. "You don't have the sense of crisis you did a few weeks ago."
Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday talked about providing more money for businesses and schools, but Mnuchin said they had not decided on what to do for households.
"Our work is not done until every single American who lost a job because of Covid is back to work," Mnuchin said.
There are some positive indications about the country's reopening. Data gathered by the HR software company Kronos on 30,000 private industry businesses and 3.2 million hourly workers found that businesses had by the end of last week recovered more than half - 59 percent - the work shifts they lost between March and April. Even in places where coronavirus cases are still surging, more workers clocked in during the last week of June than at the beginning of the month.
"From February through June, we will have seen an enormous amount of job loss," Jason Furman, a former top economic adviser to President Barack Obama, said on a conference call organized by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the House's coronavirus subcommittee. "Whatever happens month to month, the economy is in a much worse place than it was four months ago."
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The Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.
In this April 21, 2020, file photo, is the international airport in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File) (Caleb Jones/)
HONOLULU — A judge is expected to consider Thursday whether to grant a request to stop Hawaii from enforcing a quarantine on arriving travelers, meant to control the spread of the coronavirus.
A group of Hawaii, California and Nevada residents filed a lawsuit saying Hawaii’s emergency order is unfair and unnecessary. They gained the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, which filed a statement saying the quarantine discriminates against out-of-state travelers, even though it also applies to residents.
U.S. District Judge Jill Otake has said she will disregard the Justice Department's statement when deciding whether to issue a temporary restraining order. It's not clear when Otake will issue a ruling.
She has asked both sides to address how the case is impacted by Gov. David Ige’s announcement that starting Aug. 1, travelers may bypass the quarantine if they test negative for the virus before arriving in Hawaii. Ige has yet to release full details but said the testing program is modeled after one in Alaska.
"In an overreaching response to the coronavirus pandemic, defendant has significantly and unconstitutionally restricted the travel rights of Americans," the plaintiffs said in an application for the temporary restraining order.
In opposing a restraining order, the state argued the quarantine has helped Hawaii maintain a low rate of infection compared to other parts of the U.S.
As of Wednesday, Hawaii's health department had reported 926 positive cases and 18 deaths since the outbreak began.
Restrictions imposed by Hawaii balance public safety and liberties, while saving lives, the state said.
Sacrifices by the people “have allowed the state to reopen the economy in measured steps designed to prevent a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 infections and keep the pandemic within the state’s healthcare capacity,” the state said in opposing the restraining order application.
Orange hawkweeds grow in Girdwood on Thursday, June 16, 2016. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Alaska Dispatch News/)
It is summer and readers have all manner of questions. Where to begin?
First, are you finding plants on your property with pretty, red to orange, “dandelion-like” flowers? Several fellow readers have. You may be spotting them along the road or on trails as you walk. The flowers are actually smaller than a dandelion, on a longer, hairy stalk, and each stalk usually supports several flowers.
This is hawkweed, Hieracium. Look it up on the internet, even if you don’t have it. There is a good chance you will. I found some this year on a path in the woods. Where did it come from? Is this Alaska’s next noxious invasive?
Dig up hawkweed plants. They have shallow roots. Do not be fooled by its startling, flame red or orange flower, nor the desirable, impenetrable mat the plants can create. It is the devil’s spawn in our climate.
Next, there is a second dandelion-ish looking weed causing people to wonder if global warming is creating giant plants. Perennial sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis) is often called “giant dandelion,” as its flowers are usually borne on tall stems, up to 3 feet or so. You will see them along roads where they are really proliferating and sometimes in your lawn. Unfortunately, these weeds have extremely deep and extensive roots, and if you pull the plant up, parts remain in the soil. Each leftover root section then grows into a new plant.
The trick to control of sow thistle is to keep at it but, instead of trying to pull it up, cut the plant off above ground at its base. If it grows back, and it will, cut it again. Persistence and you will beat it. Since at first they grow individually, take care of any you find on your property, ASAP. Above all, do not let it flower, and if it does, do not let these go to seeds.
Closeup of a bright yellow flower sow thistle or Sonchus arvensis. (Getty) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/)
Next, yes, this is the week to thin out vegetable seedlings and yes, you can eat them. Beets, carrots, lettuces, radish and possibly other row crops you put in are getting crowded. If you don’t thin them out, you are likely to end up with miniature veggies. Plants need room to grow. How much? You know what the final product is going to look like; give it enough room to reach that size with a couple of inches to spare.
Some plants you thin out can be transplanted elsewhere. Lettuces, for example. Carrots and beets, on the other hand, are not easy to transplant successfully.
A few lilac questions answered. Yes, the time to prune lilacs is immediately after or while they are in flower. You can transplant lilacs all season long. Use native soil. If you only have flowers on the tops of your plants, you didn’t use enough Plantskydd last fall, as this is a classic sign of moose browsing.
To compound our aphid problem, this week is going to be warmer than most. Make sure you water your lawns, which will water your trees and shrubs. Your gardens, too, will need water. And don‘t forget your raspberry patch. This is not a good time for the plants there to be dry as they are setting flowers and growing fruit.
What to do with those spring daffodils and tulips? They probably won’t perform again next year. Just leave them. Who knows? A few may make it to next year. Instead, spend time staking delphiniums and peonies so they are not destroyed when it rains once they are in full flower
Finally, I nag about weeding. A little bit of work now will save your vegetables and annuals from the competition. Butter and eggs are really ripe for pulling right now. They will start forming seeds in a few weeks so get them. And chickweed just continues right along. Pull it and remove it from the garden.
Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar
Fourth of July: Great time to garden instead of partying! Have a great one!
Alaska Botanical Garden: Trails are open and the gardens are beautiful. Check out alaskabg.org for the latest news. Thursdays are for picnics in the garden, 6-8 p.m. The nursery is open.
Water: How much? At least 1 inch per week between you and Mother Nature.
Greenhouses: Leave the doors open to encourage insect pollination. Stake tomatoes and cucumbers
This 2014 microscope photo provided by Dr. F. Dahlke shows 1.5 mm diameter eggs of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Global warming looks like it will be a far bigger problem for the world’s fish species than scientists first thought, since a study led by Dahlke released on Thursday, July 2, 2020 shows that when fish are spawning or are embryos they are far more vulnerable to hotter water. (Dr. F. Dahlke via AP) (fdahlke/)
Global warming looks like it will be a bigger problem for the world’s fish species than scientists first thought: A new study shows that when fish are spawning or are embryos they are more vulnerable to hotter water.
With medium-level human-caused climate change expected by the end of the century, the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes will be too hot for about 40% of the world’s fish species in the spawning or embryonic life stages, according to a study in Thursday’s journal Science. That means they could go extinct or be forced to change how and where they live and reproduce.
Until now, biologists had just studied adult fish. For adult fish, around 2% to 3% of the species would be in the too-hot zone in the year 2100 with similar projected warming. So using this new approach reveals a previously unknown problem for the future of fish, scientists said.
In a worst-case climate change scenario, which some scientists said is increasingly unlikely, the figure for species in trouble jumps to 60%.
These vulnerable times in the life of a fish make this a "bottleneck" in the future health of species, said study co-author Hans-Otto Portner, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.
A marine heatwave last year, known as a blob, caused large numbers of migrating salmon to die throughout Alaska’s rivers. It also killed off cod eggs, showing what a warmer future might be like, said study lead author Flemming Dahlke, a marine biologist at the institute.
This July 2019 photo provided by Peter Westley shows the carcass of a chum salmon along the shore of the Koyukuk River near Huslia, Alaska, July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded in the state. (Peter Westley/University of Alaska Fairbanks via AP) (Peter Westley/)
"With spawning fish and embryos most sensitive to warming waters, it means fish populations won't be able to replace themselves," said Rutgers University ecologist Malin Pinsky, who wasn't part of the study but praised it. "Without reproduction and offspring, we have no fish, no fishing and no fish on our plates."
In studying 694 species, Dahlke and Portner found some of the fish likely to be hardest hit by this phenomenon include Alaska pollock - the biggest fishery in the United States and the source of fast food fillets - and well-known species such as sockeye salmon, brown trout, bonito, barracuda and swordfish.
"The more we allow temperature to change ... the more we will lose the natural foundation of human life, including food from the sea," Portner said.
When it gets too warm for spawning, the species could still possibly move to someplace cooler or spawn at another time, but that’s not easy, Dahlke said. “This could mean a lot of problems to many species.”
Patrons eat lunch at Slater's 50/50 Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Santa Clarita, Calif. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered a three-week closure of bars, indoor dining and indoor operations of several other types of businesses in various counties, including Los Angeles, as the state deals with increasing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Marcio Jose Sanchez/)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. climbed to an all-time high of more than 50,000 per day on Thursday, with the infection curve rising in 40 out of 50 states in a reversal that has largely spared only the Northeast.
In yet another alarming indicator, 36 states are seeing a rise in the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for the virus.
The surge has been blamed in part on Americans not wearing masks or following other social distancing rules as states lifted their lockdowns over the past few weeks.
The U.S. recorded 50,700 new cases, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That represents a doubling of the daily total over the past month and is higher even than what the country witnessed during the deadliest phase of the crisis in April and May.
All but 10 states are showing an increase in newly confirmed cases over the past 14 days, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization that collects testing information. The outbreaks are most severe in Arizona, Texas and Florida, which together with California have re-closed or otherwise clamped back down on bars, restaurants and movie theaters.
Nebraska and South Dakota were the only states outside the Northeast with a downward trend in cases.
While some of the increases may be explained in part by expanded testing, other indicators are grim, too, including hospitalizations and positive test rates. Over the past two weeks, the percentage of positive tests in Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee has doubled. In Idaho and Nevada, it has tripled.
The surge in cases comes as Americans head into a Fourth of July holiday weekend that health officials warn could add fuel to the virus by drawing big crowds. Many municipalities have canceled fireworks displays. Beaches up and down California and Florida have been closed.
Morris Copeland, of the Strategic Urban Response to Guideline Education (SURGE) group, center, passes out kits to team members which they will distribute to residents living in COVID-19 hotspots, during the new coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. The teams were formed by Miami-Dade County to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus. The kits contain masks, hand sanitizer, and information about testing locations. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky/)
FILE - In this Monday, June 29, 2020, file photo, Bigard Ogbonna, right, checks a customer's temperature before they enter a store at the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, N.J., as New Jersey's indoor shopping malls reopened from their COVID-19 pause. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) (Seth Wenig/)
Florida reported more than 10,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases for the first time Thursday. That is six times higher than the daily count of less than a month ago. The state also reported 67 deaths for the second time in a week. Deaths per day are up about 30 percent from two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the government reported that U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June as the economy added a solid 4.8 million jobs. But the data was collected during the second week of June, before many states began to backtrack on restarting their economies.
Several Northeastern states have seen new infections slow down significantly, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey, which allowed its Atlantic City casinos to reopen Thursday, though with no smoking, no drinking and no eating.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday seemed confident the virus would soon subside, telling Fox Business: “I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
The U.S. has reported at least 2.7 million cases and more than 128,000 dead, the highest toll in the world. Globally there have been 10.7 million confirmed cases and more than 516,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins’ count. The true toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of limited testing and mild cases that have been missed.
Other countries are also reporting record numbers of cases.
South Africa recorded more than 8,100 new cases, a one-day record. The country has the most cases in Africa, more than 159,000, as it loosens what had been one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
“We have now entered a new and treacherous phase in the life cycle of this pandemic,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa warned in a broadcast to the nation.
South Korean army soldiers spray disinfectant to help reduce the spread of the new coronavirus in a class at Cheondong elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea, Thursday, July 2, 2020. South Korea reported dozens of new cases as the virus continues to spread beyond the capital area and reach cities like Gwangju, which has shut schools and tightened social restrictions after dozens were found infected this week. (Kim Jun-beom/Yonhap via AP) (Kim Jun-beom/)
A social distancing sign is displayed as the lead bottom of the Great Bath is cleaned at the Roman Baths in Bath, England, Thursday July 2, 2020, making final preparations ahead of reopening to members of the public on Monday as further coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted in England. (Ben Birchall/PA via AP) (Ben Birchall/)
A health worker checks the temperature of a man during a free medical checkup at residential building in Mumbai, India, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a live address Tuesday that the country's coronavirus death rate is under control, but that the country is at a "critical juncture." But since the lockdown was lifted, the caseload has shot up, making India the world's fourth-worst affected country. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) (Rafiq Maqbool/)
India, the world’s second-most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, surpassed 600,000 infections on Thursday after over 19,000 new cases were reported. India has reported nearly 100,000 new cases in the past four days alone.
Many industries and businesses have reopened across India, though schools, colleges and movie theaters are still closed.
On the medical front, the World Health Organization said that smoking is linked to a higher risk of severe illness and death from the coronavirus in hospitalized patients, although it was unable to specify exactly how much greater the danger might be.
Associated Press’ Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed to this report. Coyle reported from New York. Rising reported from Berlin.
Mountains and grasslands surround the border barrier near Hereford, Ariz., in January. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)
WASHINGTON - The Trump administration has awarded a major border security contract to a California technology start-up that will use artificial intelligence on an unprecedented scale, pairing the president’s giant steel barrier with the kind of “virtual wall” long favored by Democrats to prevent illegal crossings from Mexico.
The five-year agreement between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Anduril Industries calls for the company to deploy hundreds of solar-powered mobile surveillance towers designed to operate in rugged locations. With cameras and thermal imaging, they detect moving objects and feed an artificial intelligence system capable of distinguishing among animals, humans and vehicles, sending location and mapping information right to the cellphones of U.S. patrol agents.
The effectiveness of the Anduril system in pilot programs so far, and the administration's deepening commitment to the technology, raises an obvious - if awkward - question for Homeland Security officials as President Donald Trump spends billions of taxpayer dollars to speed up his border wall project. If the Anduril system can spot migrants and smugglers from miles away and guide U.S. agents right to them, what is the point of building a costly physical barrier in isolated border areas where there are few crossings?
In their opposition to Trump's physical border barrier, many Democrats have promoted "smart" border technology as a more effective and cheaper alternative to the $15 billion concrete-and-steel version Trump is racing to install and which he is promoting on the campaign trail.
The CBP contract announced Thursday designates the Anduril system as a "program of record," meaning a technology so essential it will be a dedicated item in the Homeland Security budget. While it does not specify a dollar amount, Anduril executives said the agreement is worth several hundred million dollars.
CBP said in a statement Thursday morning that it plans to deploy 200 "Autonomous Surveillance Towers" by 2022. It says agents can set up the systems at a location along the border in just two hours.
"These towers give agents in the field a significant leg up against the criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity," Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said in the statement, which does not mention Anduril by name. "The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond," Scott said.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has criticized Trump's border wall plans and said he will not spend money on physical barriers. If elected, he will face intense pressure to repudiate Trump's signature project and bring the bulldozers and excavators to a halt.
Anduril's contract leaves the company in a position to benefit regardless of the outcome in November, with an artificial intelligence system that could reinforce the president's physical wall or develop into the kind of virtual wall Democrats have said they prefer.
"No matter where we go as a country, we're going to need to have situational awareness on the border," Matthew Steckman, Anduril's chief revenue officer, said in an interview. "No matter if talking to a Democrat or a Republican, they agree that this type of system is needed."
Anduril's founder, 27-year-old Palmer Luckey, sold his previous company, Oculus, to Facebook for $3 billion in 2014. He was forced out at Facebook in 2017 after a donation to a pro-Trump group angered co-workers, but he denied that politics got him fired.
Luckey, who grew up in southern California's Orange County, cultivates a nerd-warrior image, dressing in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts while running the company he named after a sword in "Lord of the Rings." Venture capital firms recently poured another $200 million into Anduril, which is now valued at nearly $2 billion, the company said Wednesday.
Steckman, who previously worked for Pentagon contractor Palantir, said Anduril's broader goal is to compete in the larger, more lucrative defense contracting market. The deal with CBP allows Anduril to showcase its artificial intelligence system, Lattice, as an all-seeing shield that can protect U.S. military bases and other strategic sites.
Anduril also has developed aerial drones that can be deployed to feed the Lattice system, but the company said it is not planning to use that equipment for its contract with CBP, and will rely instead on the tower-mounted mobile cameras.
Border security experts and Anduril executives say the Lattice system is a breakthrough in border technology, because the company claims the artificial intelligence software is capable of distinguishing between an animal and a human with 97% accuracy, reducing the number of times agents respond to sensors triggered by cattle, deer, peccary and other large mammals wandering the borderlands.
The system does not use facial recognition or other personal identification technology, minimizing the privacy concerns typically associated with the deployment of powerful government surveillance equipment across large open spaces. It is designed primarily for use in remote border regions with few people, not urban areas with more crossings, to provide agents with what the company calls "wide area understanding."
The border barrier in Arizona. (Washington Post photo by Carolyn Van Houten)
From the beginning of Trump's presidency, CBP officials embraced, and modified, his original vision for a Great Wall-style edification along the border, resulting in the see-through steel bollard design now under construction. CBP officials say the barrier is the physical anchor of a broader "wall system" that includes layers of surveillance technology, including cameras and sensors.
The Anduril system can be deployed in steep, mountainous areas where barrier construction is not feasible, or as a secondary layer with a panoramic view of new border fence.
CBP's previous, billion-dollar attempt to build a virtual wall ended in failure a decade ago, and in recent years Trump has often mocked Democrats' preference for such systems while touting his version.
"They'd say, 'No, no, we don't need a wall. We can have airplanes flying above. We can have pic- - people taking pictures. We can have drones,' " Trump said last month during a trip to the border in Arizona to commemorate the completion of 200 linear miles of new steel barriers. "I say, 'What are you going to do? Take pictures of everyone flowing across?'
"Walls are the greatest technology," the president said. "They work."
An irony of CBP's contract with Anduril is that during the past three years that the Trump administration has spent billions of dollars to put up a physical barrier, technological advances have finally made a virtual wall system feasible. The Lattice system relies on some of the same chip technology developed by Tesla and other companies for driverless cars, Steckman said.
CBP officials for years have been eager to develop more advanced surveillance systems, and they credit higher interdiction rates in recent years with improvements in their detection abilities, or "situational awareness."
"The desire of the Border Patrol for quite some time has been complete situational awareness for all the territory between ports of entry, but it's never been achieved because it was never invested in," said Ronald Vitiello, a 30-year Border Patrol veteran who served as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement until Trump abruptly removed him last year.
Vitiello said he is skeptical a Biden administration will be willing to invest in Anduril because the Democratic Party's base is so intensely opposed to Trump's immigration policies. "I don't think the political winds will allow him to advocate for stronger border security or even smarter investments," Vitiello said. "I just don't see it, because the conversation around border security right now is so skewed."
Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said the Anduril system"fits right into Democratic Party rhetoric about having smart border technology instead of a fifth-century wall."
But he cautioned it could clash with "post-George Floyd era concerns about law enforcement having too much power."
"It's hard to gauge where the Democratic Party is," Isacson said. "And some of the folks who were for border technology in the past may be less trusting, if given this new ability, of a law enforcement agency like the Border Patrol that has aligned itself so much with Trump."
Luckey's reputation as a Trump supporter could also hurt the company, Isacson added.
Department of Homeland Security officials say they remain on track to complete 450 miles of new barriers by the end of 2020. To add miles as quickly as possible, the Trump administration has been digging, blasting and bulldozing through national forests, wildlife preserves and other protected areas in western states where the federal government already controls the land.
Environmental groups and traditional ranching families along the border have watched with alarm as Trump's barrier bisects desert ecosystems, erases archaeological sites and cuts across stream channels and rivers. The Anduril system offers a low-impact, impermanent, greener alternative that appeals to landowners along the border.
William McDonald, a fifth-generation rancher in southern Arizona and lifelong Republican who has denounced the wall as destructive and wasteful, said "smart" border technology is unintrusive and effective. "It's already working where it's in place," he said. "It has a low impact on the environment and wildlife movement. It targets illegal crossers, period."
Large physical barriers are considered most effective in more urban areas of the border, where agents have less time to interdict someone and prevent them from getting into a vehicle. In more remote areas where agents are sparse, smugglers and border-crossers can breach or climb over barriers to advance northward, but the nearest road may be several miles away, giving Border Patrol a time advantage. Their biggest challenge is detection.
In 2010, then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ended a CBP contract with Boeing to build a virtual wall system, SBInet, that was gathered information from electronic sensors along U.S. borders.
CBP officials say the government pulled the plug amid frustrations that agents were flooded with raw data and sensor input that didn't mesh with their existing enforcement tools and techniques.
Since then, Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems has deployed sophisticated cameras in towers along the border, but its equipment is more expensive and less mobile than Anduril's, current and former CBP officials say. The Anduril towers have a smaller footprint and can be moved around easily, so they also help CBP avoid some of the land-use conflict issues that arise when the company requests access to tribal land, private property and environmentally sensitive areas.
Former CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who resigned as acting DHS secretary last fall, established a "DHS Silicon Valley Initiative" in 2016 to pair experienced CBP officials with software engineers. The agency began working with Anduril when the company was being formed.
McAleenan said he is not aware of any other security firm developing a federal program of record so quickly.
"We took a company and technology solution from initial concept, to pilot, to widespread deployment in less than four years," McAleenan said in an interview. "That's unprecedented. That's how it should work."
The system Anduril has developed in concert with CBP is worth installing regardless of whether border wall construction goes forward, Steckman said, because U.S. agents need surveillance capabilities with or without a physical barrier.
"You can get those eyeballs through people or with an autonomous system," he said. "I would argue that because of the massive labor and cost reduction in not using people, this is a pretty good way to put eyes on whatever you need to put eyes on."
Steckman said the Lattice system is not built to capture personal information, only categories of moving objects.
"We know at a distance whether it's a person, it's a cow, it's a vehicle, it's an aircraft, it's a ship," Steckman said. "We don't know anything below that level, but for border security, especially in rural locations, that's enough to make a decision."
"Instead of a having a person's brain be the sensor fusion engine," he said, "the software surfaces information up to the point that a decision can be made, so the user can then go and do something about it."
The Washington Post’s Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.
Anglers ply the Russian River on June 28. Escapement numbers are well behind last year so far on the Russian River, but managers remain confident the goals will be met. (Elizabeth Earl)
Salmon harvests across Alaska are slow so far as the fisheries head toward their usual high points in July.
So far, fishermen have landed about 5.8 million salmon. That’s less than half of the 2018 numbers by the same date, when 14 million had been landed. Much of that is due to poor sockeye returns, particularly in the Copper River area, though everywhere is slower than previous years, including Bristol Bay.
The Copper River and Bering River districts continue their shutdown this week due to unexpectedly low sockeye returns. The return to the Copper River is not living up to the preseason forecast, with only 378,058 sockeye through the Miles Lake weir as of June 29, compared to more than 696,828 by the same date last year. The forecast called for 1.5 million sockeye to return to the Copper River this year.
In an emergency order issued June 27, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game noted that the escapement through June 25 is about 85,000 fish behind projections, and the surveys of the Copper River Delta are significantly behind estimated ranges.
“(Through June 25), the sonar count is the 14th lowest on record (1978-2020),” the emergency order states. “Cumulative commercial harvest this year is the fourth lowest harvest to-date in the last 50 years. "
As of June 27, fishermen across Prince William Sound had harvested about 495,000 sockeye, less than half of the 2019 number of about 1.1 million. Chum salmon harvests are down about 44 percent as well, and king salmon harvests are down about 75 percent, according to a harvest update from the McDowell Group. Fishermen in the Copper River district have harvested 81,228 sockeye, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Pink salmon have yet to show up in the Sound in large numbers.
Bristol Bay is also somewhat behind, though there’s still time for the harvest to pick up. Last year was another banner one for the Bay, and 2020 is forecast to be more modest — around 34.6 million available for harvest with a total run of 46.6 million, according to ADFG. But even for that prediction, harvest is pretty slow; only about 1.5 million sockeye have been harvested, about 78 percent less than last year.
Andy Wink, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, noted that other seasons that ended up having exceptionally large harvests started slowly as well.
“We also had a slow start in 2012, 2015 and 2016; those last two ended up producing over 35 million sockeye harvested in the Bay,” he said. “We’re between 10 and 15 percent of our way through the normal harvest curve. There’s still plenty of time to catch up.”
One of the major pressures on the Bay has been concern about COVID-19 infections, both spreading in vulnerable communities and in processors, where they could bring the fishery to a swift halt. Last week, a dozen seafood workers in Dillingham tested positive, though they were quarantined and not spreading it in the community.
Overall, there were 19 nonresident cases in the combined Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. By contrast, there were only two resident cases in the combined Bristol Bay and Lake and Peninsula boroughs.
Wink said the protocols the industry has set up to prevent the spread of the virus seem to be working.
“We haven’t seen really any community spread thus far in the Bay, and that’s really encouraging. A lot of the fishermen and processing workers came in in early June. I think one of the concerns was were we going to see transmission of the virus when they were in the plane, in the boatyards … by this time, we would have seen that if that had happened,” he said. “So far so good. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I think all of the precautionary measures and all of the work that went into setting up the season are working.”
Commercial fishing is mandated as an essential industry, with long lists of protocols for how fleets and processors should work this year and prevent the spread of the virus. Of the 64 nonresident cases identified last week, 43 were in seafood workers. All of them were quarantined prior to testing positive, according to the DHSS.
Upper Cook Inlet’s fishermen are off to a slow start as well, with 61,904 salmon landed so far. About 59,000 of them are sockeye. That’s down about 73 percent from last year, according to the McDowell Group. The Kenai subdistrict setnetters have yet to come online, but they’ll be restricted based on the prohibition of bait in the Kenai River late-run king salmon fishery as well. The Kasilof River is tracking ahead of last year, with 79,292 fish passing the sonar as of Monday, according to Fish and Game.
The Kenai River sonar went online July 1. The sockeye being caught in the Kenai mainstem so far are largely Russian River sockeye, which are headed upstream to spawn near Cooper Landing. That sport fishery opened mid-June with additional area: Fish and Game opened the sanctuary area near the confluence of the two rivers early. The sanctuary doesn’t usually open until the late run or if the run is particularly large.
Upper Cook Inlet sportfish area management biologist Colton Lipka said opening up that area spaced out the anglers more along the fishery.
“This year, we saw what we needed to see, and I think it served everybody’s interest to spread out a little more up there,” he said. “This is a fairly new tool that we have since we have a few more years of data.”
The weir at Lower Russian Lake has counted 13,655 sockeye so far, a fraction of what it counted last year on the same date. However, that 13,655 is about 8,400 fish lower than the lower end of the escapement goal for the early run, and there are still two weeks left before it transitions to the late run. Last year was an anomalously huge run, Lipka said. They ended up with nearly 126,000 sockeye on the early run, about triple the upper end of the escapement goal.
“If we actually look at the average early run escapement, last 10 years, it’s 40,000,” he said. “Last year’s was 125,000. The next biggest year behind 2019 was back in 2002, and that was 85,000. Last year was a true exception. It’s awesome to see those years; what we’re looking at this year was a little more back towards normal. It does seem like the run is a little more spread out.”
Effort on the Russian so far has been reportedly good on weekends but light on week days compared to a normal year, meaning it’s mostly residents using their weekends to fish as opposed to the normal load of tourists. Lipka cautioned anglers that there have been reports of brown bear activity on the road side of the river this year and that anglers should keep their gear and fish close.
Nightbird Restaurant chef and owner Kim Alter, left, mimics giving a hug to nurse practitioner Sydney Gressel, center, and patient care technician Matt Phillips after delivering dinner to them at University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco, March 27, 2020. A group of tech-savvy, entrepreneurial San Francisco friends wanted to help two groups devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. They came up with a plan that involved soliciting donations, tapping friends in the restaurant world and getting San Francisco hospitals to accept free food cooked up by some of the city's top chefs. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) (Jeff Chiu/)
Acts of kindness may not be that random after all. Science says being kind pays off.
Research shows that acts of kindness make us feel better and healthier. Kindness is also key to how we evolved and survived as a species, scientists say. We are hard-wired to be kind.
Kindness “is as bred in our bones as our anger or our lust or our grief or as our desire for revenge,” said University of California San Diego psychologist Michael McCullough, author of the forthcoming book “Kindness of Strangers.” It’s also, he said, “the main feature we take for granted.”
Scientific research is booming into human kindness and what scientists have found so far speaks well of us.
“Kindness is much older than religion. It does seem to be universal,” said University of Oxford anthropologist Oliver Curry, research director at Kindlab. “The basic reason why people are kind is that we are social animals.”
We prize kindness over any other value. When psychologists lumped values into ten categories and asked people what was more important, benevolence or kindness, comes out on top, beating hedonism, having an exciting life, creativity, ambition, tradition, security, obedience, seeking social justice and seeking power, said University of London psychologist Anat Bardi, who studies value systems.
“We’re kind because under the right circumstances we all benefit from kindness,” Oxford’s Curry said.
When it comes to a species’ survival “kindness pays, friendliness pays,” said Duke University evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare, author of the new book “Survival of the Friendliest.”
Kindness and cooperation work for many species, whether it’s bacteria, flowers or our fellow primate bonobos. The more friends you have, the more individuals you help, the more successful you are, Hare said.
For example, Hare, who studies bonobos and other primates, compares aggressive chimpanzees, which attack outsiders, to bonobos where the animals don’t kill but help out strangers. Male bonobos are far more successful at mating than their male chimp counterparts, Hare said.
McCullough sees bonobos as more the exceptions. Most animals aren’t kind or helpful to strangers, just close relatives so in that way it is one of the traits that separate us from other species, he said. And that, he said, is because of the human ability to reason.
Humans realize that there’s not much difference between our close relatives and strangers and that someday strangers can help us if we are kind to them, McCullough said.
FILE - In this Friday, April 24, 2020 file photo, Dennis Ruhnke holds two of his remaining N-95 masks as he stands with his wife, Sharon at their home near Troy, Kan. Dennis, a retired farmer, shipped one of the couple's five masks left over from his farming days to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for use by a doctor or a nurse. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (John Hanna/)
Reasoning “is the secret ingredient, which is why we donate blood when there are disasters” and why most industrialized nations spend at least 20% of their money on social programs, such as housing and education, McCullough said.
Duke’s Hare also points to mama bears to understand the evolution and biology of kindness and its aggressive nasty flip side. He said studies point to certain areas of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, temporal parietal junction and other spots as either activated or dampened by emotional activity. The same places give us the ability to nurture and love, but also dehumanize and exclude, he said.
When mother bears are feeding and nurturing their cubs, these areas in the brain are activated and it allows them to be generous and loving, Hare said. But if someone comes near the mother bear at that time, it sets of the brain’s threat mechanisms in the same places. The same bear becomes its most aggressive and dangerous.
Hare said he sees this in humans. Some of the same people who are generous to family and close friends, when they feel threatened by outsiders become angrier. He points to the current polarization of the world.
“More isolated groups are more likely to be feel threatened by others and they are more likely to morally exclude, dehumanize,” Hare said. “And that opens the door to cruelty.”
But overall our bodies aren’t just programmed to be nice, they reward us for being kind, scientists said.
“Doing kindness makes you happier and being happier makes you do kind acts,” said labor economist Richard Layard, who studies happiness at the London School of Economics and wrote the new book “Can We Be Happier?”
University of California Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky has put that concept to the test in numerous experiments over 20 years and repeatedly found that people feel better when they are kind to others, even more than when they are kind to themselves.
“Acts of kindness are very powerful,” Lyubomirsky said.
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2020 file photo, Galina Yakovleva pulls a cart with a charity food and goods to a woman in need in St.Petersburg, Russia. Every day amid the coronavirus pandemic, the 80-year-old Leningrad siege survivor Galina Yakovleva has driven to the city in her minivan to bring charity groceries and goods to elderly people and families with children in need. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky) (Dmitri Lovetsky/)
In one experiment, she asked subjects to do an extra three acts of kindness for other people a week and asked a different group to do three acts of self-kindness. They could be small, like opening a door for someone, or big. But the people who were kind to others became happier and felt more connected to the world.
The same occurred with money, using it to help others versus helping yourself. Lyubomirsky said she thinks it is because people spend too much time thinking and worrying about themselves and when they think of others while doing acts of kindness, it redirects them away from their own problems.
Oxford’s Curry analyzed peer-reviewed research like Lyubomirsky’s and found at least 27 studies showing the same thing: Being kind makes people feel better emotionally.
But it’s not just emotional. It’s physical.
Lyubomirsky said a study of people with multiple sclerosis and found they felt better physically when helping others. She also found that in people doing more acts of kindness that the genes that trigger inflammation were turned down more than in people who don’t.
And she said in upcoming studies, she’s found more antiviral genes in people who performed acts of kindness.
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Rescue workers use poles to carry a body shrouded in blue and red plastic sheet Thursday, July 2, 2020, in Hpakant, Kachin State, Myanmar. At least 162 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government's failure to take action against unsafe conditions. (AP Photo / Zaw Moe Htet) (Zaw Moe Htet/)
HPAKANT, Myanmar — At least 162 people were killed Thursday in a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, the worst in a series of deadly accidents at such sites in recent years that critics blame on the government’s failure to take action against unsafe conditions.
The Myanmar Fire Service Department, which coordinates rescues and other emergency services, announced about 12 hours after the morning disaster that 162 bodies were recovered from the landslide in Hpakant, the center of the world’s biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry.
The most detailed estimate of Myanmar’s jade industry said it generated about $31 billion in 2014. Hpakant is a rough and remote area in Kachin state, 600 miles north of Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.
“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud,” the Fire Service said. It said 54 injured people were taken to hospitals. The tolls announced by other state agencies and media lagged behind the fire agency, which was most closely involved. An unknown number of people are feared missing.
Those taking part in the recovery operations, which were suspended after dark, included the army and other government units and local volunteers.
The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness said the accident “is a damning indictment of the government”s failure to curb reckless and irresponsible mining practices in Kachin state’s jade mines.”
“The government should immediately suspend large-scale, illegal and dangerous mining in Hpakant and ensure companies that engage in these practices are no longer able to operate,” it said in a statement.
At the site of the tragedy, a crowd gathered in the rain around corpses shrouded in blue and red plastic sheets placed in a row on the ground.
Emergency workers had to slog through heavy mud to retrieve bodies by wrapping them in the plastic sheets, which were then hung on crossed wooden poles shouldered by the recovery teams.
Social activists have complained that the profitability of jade mining has led businesses and the government to neglect enforcement of already very weak regulations in the jade mining industry.
“The multi-billion dollar sector is dominated by powerful military-linked companies, armed groups and cronies that have been allowed to operate without effective social and environmental controls for years,” Global Witness said. Although the military is no longer directly in power in Myanmar, it is still a major force in government and exercises authority in remote regions.
Thursday's death toll surpasses that of a November 2015 accident that left 113 dead and was previously considered the country's worst. In that case, the victims died when a 60-meter (200-foot) -high mountain of earth and waste discarded by several mines tumbled in the middle of the night, covering more than 70 huts where miners slept.
Those killed in such accidents are usually freelance miners who settle near giant mounds of discarded earth that has been excavated by heavy machinery. The freelancers who scavenge for bits of jade usually work and live in abandoned mining pits at the base of the mounds of earth, which become particularly unstable during the rainy season.
Most scavengers are unregistered migrants from other areas, making it hard to determine exactly how many people are actually missing after such accidents and in many cases leaving the relatives of the dead in their home villages unaware of their fate.
Global Witness, which investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, documented the $31 billion estimate for Myanmar's jade industry in a 2015 report that said most of the wealth went to individuals and companies tied to the country's former military rulers. More recent reliable figures are not readily available.
It said at the time the report was released that the legacy to local people of such business arrangements “is a dystopian wasteland in which scores of people at a time are buried alive in landslides.”
In its statement Thursday, Global Witness blamed the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which came to power in 2016, for failing “to implement desperately needed reforms, allowing deadly mining practices to continue and gambling the lives of vulnerable workers in the country’s jade mines.”
Jade mining also plays a role in the decades-old struggle of ethnic minority groups in Myanmar's borderlands to take more control of their own destiny.
The area where members of the Kachin minority are dominant is poverty stricken despite hosting lucrative deposits of rubies as well as jade.
The Kachin believe they are not getting a fair share of the profits from deals that the central government makes with mining companies.
Kachin guerrillas have engaged in intermittent but occasionally heavy combat with government troops.
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 1991, file photo Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of late British publisher Robert Maxwell, reads a statement in Spanish in which she expressed her family's gratitude to the Spanish authorities, aboard the "Lady Ghislaine" in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Maxwell, a British socialite who was accused by many women of helping procure underage sex partners for Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in New Hampshire, the FBI said Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Dominique Mollard, File) (Dominique Mollard/)
British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested by the FBI on Thursday on charges she helped procure underage sex partners for financier Jeffrey Epstein.
An indictment made public Thursday said Maxwell, who lived for years with Epstein and was his frequent travel companion on trips around the world, facilitated Epstein’s crimes by “helping Epstein to recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse " girls as young as 14. It also said she participated in the sexual abuse.
Epstein, 66, killed himself in a federal detention center in New York last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell has, for years, been accused by many women of recruiting them to give Epstein massages, during which they were pressured into sex. Those accusations, until now, never resulted in criminal charges.
The indictment included counts of conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and two counts of perjury.
“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
She called the charges against Maxwell a “prequel” to the charges prosecutors brought last summer against Epstein.
Messages were sent Thursday to several of Maxwell’s attorneys seeking comment. She has previously repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called some of the claims against her “absolute rubbish.”
Among the most sensational accusations was a claim by one Epstein victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, that Maxwell arranged for her to have sex with Britain's Prince Andrew at her London townhouse. Giuffre bolstered her allegations with a picture of her, Andrew and Giuffre that she said was taken at the time.
Andrew denied her story and Maxwell, 58, said in one deposition that Giuffre was “totally lying.”
Andrew was not mentioned by name in the indictment, and the charges covered Maxwell's dealings with Epstein only in the period from 1994 through 1997, a period well before his alleged encounters with Giuffre in 2001.
Brad Edwards, an attorney who represents Giuffre and several other Epstein victims said his clients were relieved by the charges. “Today is a very good day,” he said.
The indictment focused on Epstein's alleged abuse of three specific girls at his Manhattan mansion and other residences in Palm Beach, Florida; Sante Fe, New Mexico and London. Their names were not revealed in court filings.
The indictment mirrored many of the claims previously made in civil lawsuits against Maxwell, saying she would “entice and groom” minor girls by asking them about their lives, their schools and their families.
“Through this process, Maxwell and Epstein enticed victims to engage in sexual activity with Epstein. In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims,” the indictment said.
The indictment said Maxwell repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct. It says she committed perjury in 2016 in a deposition in a civil lawsuit, in part by denying knowledge of Epstein's scheme to recruit underage girls.
At the time the crimes occurred, Maxwell was in an intimate relationship with Epstein and also was paid by him to manage his various properties, according to the indictment, which included a photograph of Epstein with his arm around Maxwell and his head nuzzling hers.
Epstein was initially investigated in Florida and pleaded guilty to state charges in 2008 that allowed him to avoid a lengthy prison sentence. He was free a little after a year in prison.
At the time, a federal prosecutor in Florida signed off on an agreement, initially filed in secret, that barred the federal government from charging “any potential co-conspirators of Epstein.” Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s former labor secretary, resigned last year after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.
Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, argued that federal prosecutors in New York were not bound by that agreement and brought a sweeping indictment against Epstein. Berman vowed to continue seeking justice for Epstein’s victims even after the financier’s death but was abruptly fired last month.
Maxwell's indictment was celebrated by lawyers for some of Epstein's accusers.
Jennifer Araoz, a woman who says Epstein raped her in his New York mansion in 2002 when she was 15, said she feared the financier’s ring of conspirators for years.
“Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can’t be hurt anymore,” Araoz, now 33, said in a statement. “Day after day, I have waited for the news that Maxwell would be arrested and held accountable for her actions. Her arrest is a step in that direction, and it truly means that the justice system didn’t forget about us.”
Spencer T. Kuvin, who represents some of the women, said Maxwell was “hopefully be the first of many co-conspirators to face the consequences of this horrific crimes.”
Maxwell was described in a lawsuit by another Epstein victim, Sarah Ransome, as the “highest-ranking employee” of Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking enterprise. She oversaw and trained recruiters, developed recruiting plans and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement, the lawsuit alleged.
2020 Distinguished Artist Wayne Price. (Pat Race/Rasmuson Foundation)
The Rasmuson Foundation announced the 36 artists that will receive grant awards in 2020. In a first for the foundation, the awards were opened to collaborative groups as well as individual artists.
Ten artists received fellowships of $18,000 and 25 received project awards of $7,500 from a pool of 289 applicants, the foundation announced Wednesday. The most prestigious honor, the distinguished artist award, was given to Tlingit master carver Wayne Price.
Four group projects were awarded. Enzina Marrari, one of the co-managers of the awards, said the foundation saw a need for expanding the representation of Alaska artists beyond individual creators.
“We really wanted to honor and respect the collaborative nature of art-making and art practice and recognize groups as eligible applicants this year,” she said.
The virus has interrupted artists’ shows and performances, causing most recent events to be canceled. That’s created an even greater need for the foundation to continue supporting them, Marrari said.
“There was no question in the foundation on whether we would maintain the individual artist awards this year,” she said “We know that artists continue to need support in our community and the voice of artists is essential in telling the story of Alaska.”
In past years, a national panel of artists would come to Alaska to review the applications, but COVID-19 travel restrictions resulted in a completely virtual review panel, Marrari said.
Some artists have had to reimagine or postpone portions of their projects because of safety concerns and travel restrictions Marrari said.
“I think artists are still identifying how they will adapt or change their projects,” Marrari said. “We know artists are incredibly resilient and resourceful, and they are steadfast in seeking to pursue their projects.”
Here’s the complete list of awardees (project descriptions have been edited for length; see the full descriptions at rasmuson.org).
Distinguished Artist Award ($40,000)
Tlingit master carver Wayne Price was named the foundation’s distinguished artist for 2020, the foundation announced in March. Wayne received $40,000 for his work restoring and duplicating historic totem poles, as well as reviving the techniques of carving traditional oceangoing canoes, the announcement said.
"Bit of Alaska" by Wayne Price. (Photo courtesy of Cheri Price)
Born in Juneau and raised in Haines, Price started carving as a teenager at Alaska Indian Arts. Throughout his career, Wayne has carved 38 totem poles and 12 oceangoing canoes, his profile page on the foundation’s website says.
Not only is he famous for his carving skills, but also for his use of art to promote healing and recovery.
“I know two things,” Wayne says on his profile page. “I know about wood. And I know about recovery.”
Wayne is the 17th artist to receive the award meant to recognize artists possessing and extensive body of work and accomplishments.
Absolute Zero is a group project focusing on creating sculptures in Western Alaska that will use sound as a metaphor for breaking the silence centered around sexual assault. Artists will document the process to create a film that amplifies the call for “absolute zero” sexual violence. The team includes documentary filmmaker Joshua Albeza Branstetter, sculptor and project director Sarah Davies, ceramic engineer Ed Mighell and project manager Rachelle Branstetter.
James Dommek Jr. will create “The Fantastic Alaskan” podcast to reinterpret his great-grandfather’s Iñupiaq stories and make them accessible to youth through audio and animation.
Multidisciplinary poet Christy NaMee Eriksen will explore themes of loss and identity in a new body of work about her adolescent years as a Korean adoptee.
Athabascan artist Emma Hildebrand will use the traditional craftsmanship she learned from her mother and Alaska Native elders to create pieces from hides, quills and beads.
Anchorage musician Emma Hill is creating a work of music, poetry and images from her experiences in 30 national parks this past winter. She wants to immerse audiences in the power of natural spaces and underscore their importance in our culture.
Linda Infante Lyons will create a new body of work featuring paintings that celebrate the strength and spiritual power of contemporary rural Alaska Native youth by incorporating sacred elements from Sugpiaq, or Alutiiq, and Russian traditions.
Cynthia Morelli will use woodfired clay sculptural works to explore femininity with one of Alaska’s only two anagama kilns. She plans to advance her mastery of firing techniques through study with female mentors and enhance her online presence.
Holly Mititquq Nordlum practices and teaches traditional Alaska Native tattooing. She plans to add to her knowledge by visiting Canadian Inuit communities and documenting stories to share through Indigenous social media networks.
Kristy Summers uses cast and fabricated metal, wood, resin, concrete and found objects to create mixed media sculptures. She will construct a home studio that will allow her to produce and share new work influenced by Alaska.
Jennifer Younger uses copper, silver and spruce root to make jewelry inspired by Tlingit formline design. She will create a solo exhibit and design new works that honor her heritage beyond jewelry.
Project Awards ($7,500)
Juneau musician Annie Bartholomew will record an album of original songs inspired by women of the Klondike Gold Rush on a new custom instrument exploring themes of sexual assault, survival and resilience.
Fiber artist Mandy Bernard will create two new bodies of work: diptych sculptures employing dissonant fibers and textiles, and a wearable art collection integrating paper-cut accessories.
Sarah Campen will create a multimedia dance performance documenting the physical language of salmon processing, integrating interviews with commercial fishers.
Singer songwriter Nick Carpenter, from the band Medium Build, plans to tour the Lower 48 to show that Alaska music isn’t just for Alaska.
Corinna Cook is working on a book-length collection of lyric essays built around research into the art, changing ecology and often-painful history of Southeast Alaska and the Canadian Yukon.
Bluegrass musician Rachel DeTemple will record an album of original songs about claiming voice, featuring herself on fiddle and vocals, singing about the experiences of women — confronting the “grass ceiling” of limited opportunities for women in bluegrass.
Composer Michael Dickerson, who explores relationships between people and place through sound, plans to hold concerts of original music in Alaska’s abandoned military structures, employing their unique acoustics and documenting the work on film.
Somer Hahm will add three barn quilts — vibrant geometric paintings of quilt blocks — to her existing Far North Quilt Trail in Fairbanks, enlivening the visual and cultural landscape of the city.
Mary Hayden will purchase an industrial sewing machine and invest in training to expand her skills and the capacity and range of her work with hand-stitched leather goods that are functional as well as artistic.
Lily Hope will elevate her weaving through research on traditional Chilkat design. Her upcoming show will feature ancient and original robe patterns collaged with historical documents, demonstrating how Chilkat weaving records Indigenous history.
Huitzilin, which means hummingbird in the Nahuatl language, is a duo of Bryan Allen Fierro and Don Rearden who will write an original screenplay for a biopic based on Saúl Armendáriz. It will explore how Armendáriz, who is openly gay and Indigenous, has challenged prescribed roles in lucha libre, a hypermasculine Mexican wrestling tradition.
Musician Nelson Kempf will produce an album of original songs to better understand himself within a wider context of Alaska cultural history while reaching toward decolonization and environmental stewardship.
Illustrator Natasha Zahn Pristas and writer Sara Loewen of the Kodiak Collective will create a mobile installation reflecting the history and circular nature of life in the Kodiak Archipelago.
Ethan Lauesen will create a solo show promoting healing around the themes of belonging and rejection in Indigenous culture through his prints that explore Alaska Native and LGBTQ+ identity using Tlingit formline images and figurative distortions.
Alyssa Yáx̱ Ádi Yádi London will produce five episodes of “Culture Story” for national broadcast television and online viewing, featuring Alaska Native people from different cultures and regions to celebrate Indigenous people.
Sarah Manriquez will expand on her documentary photo project challenging stereotypes around homelessness in Alaska by working in collaboration with people experiencing homelessness.
Fiber artist Ree Nancarrow will purchase new equipment to tell complex stories in eight-to-10 large wall quilts about climate change and its consequences on Alaska’s ecosystems.
Musician Sean Northover will produce an album of original songs, incorporating hip-hop, R&B, jazz, soul, reggae, pop and folk influences as well as his Jamaican-American roots.
Carver Aaron Phillips will purchase materials and equipment and travel to Juneau to study with mentors and advance his artistry of telling stories about Alaska Native people.
Filmmaker Deborah Schildt will create “Losing Ground,” an educational podcast and Instagram series about global impacts of Alaska’s melting permafrost, featuring stories from Alaskans on the front lines of change.
The printmakers’ collective Tent City Press will invest in new equipment, software and supplies to enhance artistic quality and expand self-publishing capacity. Members are eager to bring studio access to a wider community of creatives.
Mark Tetpon makes original hoop masks that tell Iñupiaq stories in ivory, wood, fossilized whalebone and baleen. He’ll purchase materials that will allow him to expand his creative range, producing larger masks with bronzed clay elements.
Mixed media artist Tamara Wilson creates with domestic objects and construction materials. She will complete “The Lemonade Stand,” a retrofitted trailer providing a mobile venue for experimental, installation and performance art.
Tlingit, Athabascan and Yup’ik multimedia artist Crystal Worl will collaborate with other artists and Lukaax.adi clan members on a mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich in downtown Juneau.
Carver TJ Sgwaayaans Young will create a replica of a rare Haida bow housed at the Anchorage Museum. He’ll work with an unusual hardwood — yew — and to revive the knowledge needed to carve traditional Haida weaponry.
Anchorage School District nurse Bethany Zimpelman, part of the COVID-19 contact investigations and monitoring team, works in a borrowed office in the Municipality of Anchorage public health department building on April 16. (Loren Holmes / ADN archive) (Loren Holmes/)
Anchorage hit its maximum capacity for investigating cases of COVID-19, health officials announced Wednesday, urging people in the city to take serious precautions.
Cases in Anchorage among both residents and visitors continue to climb as people mix in groups and go out more. The growth in virus cases is straining the system, officials said, as both the city and the state are trying to expand capacity.
“The public health tracing capacity is at its max at the local level,” Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said during a community briefing Wednesday.
Investigating recent cases of the virus and tracking their contacts is a key component in helping limit the spread of COVID-19.
Reaching that maximum threshold prompted the city to shift its public health capacity metric from yellow to red on Wednesday.
Since Friday, Anchorage saw 70 new local cases, Pineda said. That’s a jump from the 51 cases the city had seen between June 17 and June 24, and it happened in only six days, Pineda said. Those cases drove Anchorage’s total local cases up to 457, with 231 recoveries, she said.
And that means the city is monitoring 561 cases and contacts at present.
The city is working to temporarily hire people to help with contact tracing efforts in the short term, and would like to hire 11 more public health nurses in the next one to two months while syncing up with the state’s new contact tracing system to expand capacity, Pineda said.
Cases continue to emerge in “high-risk settings,” Pineda said, and each case that comes into monitoring has several more contacts than past cases. Earlier, people may have interacted with three to five people, while now, they’re sometimes reporting 30 to 50 contacts or more, she said.
“In the past week, we’ve had a lot of cases that are associated with locations where there’s well over 100 people that they may have interacted with and we can’t trace or contact any of them,” Pineda said.
People went dancing or socialized indoors among large groups, she said. When that happens, as people move from place to place and aren’t physically distancing or wearing masks, “that’s going to cause community spread that’s really hard to manage,” Pineda said.
In several recent instances, people with the virus visited businesses without wearing masks and didn’t stay 6 feet or more from others. There were 15 cases associated with local bars, restaurants and a strip club, Pineda said.
There were also seven cases tied to a hotel, five cases tied to employees at a tourism company and three among members of a fraternal organization, Pineda said.
Those businesses have been notified and were asked to talk with their staffs and patrons about the exposure, she said. If certain organizations will not tell patrons about the exposure, Pineda said, the city will release those locations and time periods.
The state of Alaska is in the process of implementing a contact investigation and tracking database called CommCare, which Pineda said she hoped would also help with current capacity challenges.
Putting in that new system has taken longer than expected as the state works through processes like transferring case information to the new platform, said deputy director of the Division of Public Health, Tari O’Connor.
Hiring and training new contact tracers and working with partner agencies to expand capacity is taking more time as well, O’Connor said.
“It just keeps being the case that we think we’re just about there and then there’s something else that needs to happen,” O’Connor said. “It’s frustrating for everybody, but some of these things can’t be rushed and we have to do it right.”
In Alaska, contact tracers coordinate around different places in the state to help where it’s needed, O’Connor said.
“Because we do share resources between regions, we are also kind of having capacity issues statewide in terms of contact tracing,” she said.
The state also reduced how much they’re following up with contacts, O’Connor said.
Similarly, Pineda said in Anchorage they’ve stopped reaching out to contacts every day, and are instead spreading calls out over the first, third, fifth, seventh and 14th day, she said.
The new cases can stack up, especially given the limited staffing, said Dr. Bruce Chandler, the city’s medical officer for municipal disease prevention and control. Not all cases that get reported to the health department will get handled that day, he said, and some roll into the next day.
On Tuesday, the city started giving nurses more discretion in how frequently they call contacts, and when they might instead send people information about how to get in touch with the health department. Some people want daily calls while others are “exasperated” by the calls, Chandler said.
Anchorage saw steady increases among both traveler and resident cases, Chandler said. And those are just the cases that testing helped discover.
“There are many more people out there than are currently being identified through testing,” Chandler said.
Most of the people who have the virus now are between the ages of 20 and 44, Pineda said, and when it comes to looking at possible hospitalizations in the future, it “is just a math problem.”
Young people will go to work and home to their families. They might work in health care or around the vulnerable, she said.
“And two cycles from now, their family members, their loved ones, those people with chronic diseases in our community will have the exposures occur,” Pineda said. “And I expect that we would see hospitalization go up eventually, but maybe the math is wrong.”
Downtown Seward shortly after noon on July 4, 1931. (Doug Capra collection)
One of Alaska’s biggest sporting events, Mount Marathon won’t happen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. First held in 1915, the famous Seward race has been canceled on 13 previous occasions, most recently in 1942 because of World War II. This is the second part of a story that looks at the 1931 race, the last before a seven-year gap between races from 1932-38. Part one was published Tuesday.
A few days before the 1931 Mount Marathon Race, people in Seward watched a bear on the mountain’s slopes and wondered if it was practicing for the contest.
“He moved up and down the mountainside,” the Seward Gateway newspaper observed, “with great rapidity and probably wore out a pair of pants.”
Everyone’s eyes were on the race — or so it seemed. Beneath the surface, there may have been stirrings, thoughts that putting on the Mount Marathon Race wasn’t worth the effort anymore.
While the town prepared for the big two-day celebration, a Seward Gateway editorial challenged the town’s commitment to race and suggested that the business community didn’t place enough value on the race’s benefit to Seward.
“This classic is something no other town in the Territory could possible duplicate because of the natural conditions available here. Seward has the mountain and the race can be viewed with ease from Seward’s streets; from start to finish. … Make it one of the feature athletic events in Alaska!”
But for the next seven years, there would be no Mount Marathon Race. Perhaps it was the worsening Depression. But there may have been other reasons.
With several ships in port and alcohol readily available, the 1931 celebration had its problems. Some events got out of hand. On July 6 the Seward Gateway ran an editorial titled “A Disgraceful Affair,” and people complained that the Friday night Jitney Dance was “one of the most disgraceful public affairs every to have been witnessed in the city. The conduct, especially outside the hall, by alleged drunks, was nauseating; obscene language seemed to be the order of the evening together with fights.”
They suggested more “rigid surveillance,” which must have happened during the Saturday night dance. “Never was a more enjoyable and orderly public dance presented,” the newspaper bragged, “and the result was a huge throng of people waxed merry until 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Maybe the same people who organized the race year after year were getting burned out — a situation common in small towns. During the 1930s when the race wasn’t held, Anchorage encouraged Seward and Seward encouraged Anchorage to attend the other’s Fourth of July celebrations.
From left, Andy Peterson and Alec Conn of the Jesse Lee Home. Peterson finished second in the 1928 race and Conn was second in the 1930 race. (Courtesy of Jacqueline B. Pels)
Maybe it was the bad luck associated with the 1935 death of Ephraim Kalmakoff, the teenager from the Jesse Lee Home who won the race three years in a row and set a speed record that stood for nearly 30 years. Kalmakoff developed tuberculosis in the early 1930s, and at the time some attributed his illness to his excessive training for the Mount Marathon Race.
Or perhaps, embedded within all these reasons for the contest’s elimination, there was some resentment that the Mount Marathon Race had turned into a showcase for the boys of the Jesse Lee Home, a residence for Alaska Native children who were either orphaned or in need of care.
Said Frances B. Currier, a former superintendent of the home, in the Sept. 1966 Alaska Sportsman magazine: “Maybe the older and less conditioned runners were waiting for (the race to fall on) another Sunday which might keep” the Jesse Lee boys home — as had happened in 1927, when Kalmakoff, a strict Methodist, chose not to run on the Sabbath.
With boys from the home dominating, the race seemed to get less notice in the Seward Gateway. In 1929 the newspaper gave race results a four-inch write-up on page six. The next year results were listed as “kids races,” with winning times given in round figures only.
For whatever reasons, the race wasn’t held from 1932 through 1938.
Ironically, with the Mount Marathon Race’s revival in 1939, five of the six entrants were Jesse Lee Home runners and one of them, Johnny Hughes, took first place while other boys from the home finished second and fourth. Hughes won again in 1940 and was second in 1941 to classmate Oscar Wilson. There was no race in 1942, but in 1944, Ephraim Kalmakoff’s brother, Inekente Kalmakoff, a 25-year-old private in the Army Transport Service, won the race.
That was the eighth and final win for the Jesse Lee Home boys, although the home’s tradition continued indirectly beginning in 1946 with the first of nine victories by Seward runner Ralph Hatch. Hatch’s parents had been raised in the Jesse Lee Home in Unalaska and later worked at the home in Seward. Hatch was born in Unalaska in 1925 and came to Seward when the home moved there.
From left, Frankie Trigg, Johnny Hughes and William Lyons of the Jesse Lee Home. Hughes won Mount Marathon in 1939 and 1940, and Lyons placed third in the 1929 and 1930 races. (Courtesy of Jacqueline B. Pels)
As reported by the Seward Gateway, the 1931 race “began with the starter’s gun at 4:12 p.m. Friday and the sidewalks of Seward were lined with throngs, many of whom broke out binoculars; but these were not necessary as the visibility was perfect as was also the weather.”
As it turned out, 17-year-old Willie Kanyak of the Jesse Lee Home rocked the boat. He won in 56:24, beating out classmates Kalmakoff, who came in second in 59:51, and Alec Conn, who finished third in 60:12.
“Kanyak especially finished in good shape,” the Seward Gateway reported, “and seemingly could have run for another hour. The other two youths were not so fresh at the finish but neither did they appear all in.”
It was a rollicking Fourth of July celebration, but seven years would pass before the next Mount Marathon Race. And for the record — on the baseball field, the Moose Pass Terriers beat both the Seward Giants and the crew of the U.S.S. Discoverer and were declared the champions of Southwestern Alaska.
Doug Capra lives in Seward with his wife, Cindy. He’s the author of The Spaces Between: Stories from the Kenai Mountains to the Kenai Fjords. This story is a revision of one that ran in the July 1, 2015 issue of the Seward Journal. Capra used many sources to compile this story, but he wants to especially thank Jacquelin Pels whose second volume of the history of the Jesse Lee Home was most helpful.
Seward Library-Museum Archives; Seward Gateway archives, Jacqueline B. Pels history of the Jesse Lee Home, “Family After All: Alaska Jesse Lee Home (Seward, 1925-1965);” Sept. 199 Alaska Sportsman “all you have to do is run up that mountain,” by Frances B. Currier; 1952 Seward Seaport Record article by Justin Jay Stauter; and the author’s personal files and research.