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Juneau airport testing nets 7 positive COVID-19 cases in past month but more staff needed

Juneau International Airport. (07/15/20)
Juneau International Airport. (07/15/20)(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 6:54 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - COVID-19 testing at the Juneau International Airport has detected seven positive cases in the past month.

Robert Barr, the planning sections chief at Juneau’s emergency operations center, says detecting those cases likely curbed community transmission. “Whenever you have a positive case that doesn’t know they’re positive because they’re asymptomatic, they have the potential to spread that case to other people,” Barr explained.

Arrivals at Juneau’s airport have steadily risen week by week. According to the city and borough’s most recent weekly data, 2,559 passengers flew into Juneau with 1,289 people coming from Outside.

Unlike most airports in Alaska, the Juneau International Airport is owned and operated by the city and borough. That means the local fire department has been in charge of COVID-19 monitoring.

Chief Travis Mead with Capital City Fire/Rescue has been in charge of the effort. “It’s a lot of moving parts, it’s a lot of people and resources that we’ve had to bring in to be successful at this,” he said.

The emphasis of testing is on safety and speed. “We know what it’s like to be traveling for a long period of time, you get off the plane and now you have to deal with this,” Mead said.

As a flight pulls in from Seattle, the Juneau firefighters go to their stations to check mandatory testing declarations for out-of-state travelers. Some passengers head downstairs to line up for free testing.

Josh Rauwolf is returning home after traveling to Seattle. He is getting tested at the airport before heading home to wait for his results.

Rauwolf seems unfazed by the state screening requirements. “Looking at the numbers, it’s pretty straight forward and understandable why we’re doing it,” he said.

Kevin Baldwin from Dallas is also unconcerned about the testing requirements. He’s getting his second COVID test before heading out with his father. “I can’t wait, we’re going to go salmon fishing and hopefully catch a lot,” he said.

Running the airport screening has been expensive for Juneau. Barr said it costs roughly $40,000 per week. Federal coronavirus aid should eventually cover that cost.

Staffing the airport screening could also eventually become a challenge.

Thirty nine people have been employed to assist the airport screening operations. The City and Borough of Juneau is looking to recruit more as some workers are slated to leave in mid-August as they were hired seasonally.

Capital City Fire/Rescue doesn’t know how long the airport screening will be necessary. Mead said the department is planning to be operating until December.

Until then, messages of thanks from people passing through are appreciated. “It makes us feel like we’re helping our community,” Mead said.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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