They have a deal: Murkowski, bipartisan senators’ group, get infrastructure bill to square 1

street scene in front of Capitol
The street in front of the U.S. Capitol could use resurfacing. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

After weeks of negotiations, a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is advancing in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was part of a bipartisan group that reached the deal with the White House. She told reporters at the Capitol that the bill will go a long way toward rebuilding America’s lagging infrastructure “and helping in many parts of the country where infrastructure doesn’t exist at all.”

The Senate voted 67-32 Wednesday to begin debate on the bill. Several more votes lie ahead.

The bill has $550 billion in new spending on infrastructure, with the rest coming from regular federal spending on highways and other transportation. Some of the new spending would be on systems that are especially limited in rural Alaska: Broadband, drinking water and sewers

Murkowski says the bill sets good policy for the country.

“This is also important to demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats can come together over really hard stuff, to negotiate in good faith and to negotiate an agreement,” she said.

Sen. Dan Sullivan was one of the 32 Republicans who voted no on advancing the bill. A spokesman said he is waiting to see the bill language.

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Juneau just had its highest new COVID-19 case rate ever

The Juneau Assembly will consider reenacting its emergency measures to combat COVID-19 at a special meeting this evening.

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White House considering vaccine mandate for federal workers

a vial of covid-19 vaccine
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is strongly considering requiring federal employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask — a potentially major shift in policy that reflects growing concerns about the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

The possible vaccine mandate for federal employees — regardless of the rate of transmission in their area — is one option under consideration by the Biden administration, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations that have yet to be made public. The White House is expected to announce its final decision after completing a policy review this week.

According to an analysis from the federal Office of Management and Budget, in 2020 there were more than 4.2 million federal workers nationwide, including those in the military.

President Joe Biden suggested Tuesday that expanding that mandate to the entire federal workforce was “under consideration,” but offered no further details. The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first federal agency to require vaccinations, for its health workers.

RELATED: Veterans Affairs requires COVID-19 vaccination for health care workers

The broader requirement under consideration would be the most significant shift by the Biden administration this week as the White House grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations nationwide driven by the spread of the delta variant and breakthrough infections among vaccinated Americans.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its masking guidelines and said that all Americans living in areas with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

And just like that, masks were back at the White House.

RELATEDCDC urges vaccinated people to mask up indoors in places with high virus transmission

By Tuesday afternoon, when the latest CDC data found that Washington, D.C. is facing substantial rates of transmission, White House staff were asked to begin wearing masks indoors starting Wednesday. Press were asked to follow suit, and those staff and reporters remaining in the White House were already masking up.

An aide for Vice President Kamala Harris passed out masks to the reporters covering her events earlier that day, asking them to put them on before walking in to her meeting with Native American leaders on voting rights.

Biden dismissed concerns that the new masking guidance from the CDC could create confusion among Americans, saying those who remain unvaccinated are the ones who are “sowing enormous confusion.”

“The more we learn, the more we learn about this virus and the delta variation, the more we have to be worried and concerned. And there’s only one thing we know for sure — if those other 100 million people got vaccinated, we’d be in a very different world,” he told reporters after speaking to intelligence community employees at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday.

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But the whiplash on masking and vaccinations — just the day before, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had avoided questions over why the administration had yet to require vaccines for federal workers — reflects the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

Various state and local governments, private companies, hospital administrators and universities across the nation have reverted to indoor mask mandates and instituted vaccine mandates in recent months, but just 60% of American adults have been completely vaccinated, and the latest wave of the coronavirus is hitting those communities with low vaccination rates particularly hard. The nation is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

RELATED: Leaders of Alaska’s largest hospitals issue stark warning as COVID-19 surge continues

But the Biden administration had thus far avoided embracing a vaccine mandate for its own employees — in part because officials are wary of further politicizing an already fraught issue by coming down too hard on the side of vaccine mandates.

Psaki acknowledged Tuesday that administration officials are aware of the risk that Biden’s support for vaccine mandates could harden opposition to vaccines among his detractors.

“The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local, trusted voices,” she said.

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‘It’s pure joy’: Seward eager to see hometown swimmer Lydia Jacoby in Olympic finals

A group of people hold balloons and posters in celebration
Crowds and fans hold posters and balloons to celebrate Seward swimmer, Lydia Jacoby as she returns home from the 2021 Olympic trials at the Anchorage Airport on June 23, 2021. Photo by Valerie Kern, Alaska Public Media.

Seventeen-year-old Alaska swimmer Lydia Jacoby of Seward has a shot at an Olympic medal in the 100-meter breaststroke Monday night at the Tokyo games.

Jacoby made it to the finals by winning her semi-final heat Sunday with a time of 1 minute, 5.72 seconds, putting her in 1st place by less than a 10th of a second. She posted the third fastest time in the semi-finals overall.

Seward swimmer, Lydia Jacoby. (Valerie Kern/ Alaska Public Media)

It’s a quick race and it’s been a quick rise from local Seward Tsunami Swim Club standout to Olympian.

Seward swimmer mom Sarah Spanos has seen Jacoby’s progression, as her sons trained and swam with Jacoby, and the two families traveled together for meets.

While Jacoby’s parents are at an Olympics watch party in Orlando, Fla., Spanos is in Seward helping with a watch party there.

She spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove about how the community is preparing to cheer Jacoby on from afar during the women’s final at 6:17 p.m. Alaska time.

Listen here:

The following transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Sarah Spanos: It’s pure joy. The whole town. One of the local restaurants, Zudy’s, they’re selling the ‘Go Lydia, go!’ stickers. And it’s a fundraiser for the club. And every time they sell a sticker then Judy yells out, ‘Go Lydia!’ And the whole kitchen crew just yells out, ‘Go Lydia!’ in the restaurant. I mean everybody is just cheering, because they just sold a sticker in support of Lydia. And the banners, the signs, you know, people came out at 2:30 a.m. a couple nights ago for the prelim. It was awesome. And the energy just carried over to last night when I think we had a little under 200 with the guests. So tonight, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more and Lydia is aware of it. She’s super excited, kind of probably overwhelmed. Yeah, it’s just the energy is really neat.

Casey Grove: It really feels like this very emotional thing, in a good way. And I have to admit, I personally get kind of emotional when I see Alaskans going on to do great things like this, what is that? What do you think that is that makes us feel like that about you know, somebody from Seward, somebody from Alaska going on to do this?

Spanos: I think she’s representing all those kids that put in the time and the work, to practice to travel to compete, to fly out of state for competition. I mean, the time and commitment is pretty profound. And yeah, she’s definitely representing every kid that had dreams of going to the Olympics. Yesterday, after the semi-finals, my son was being interviewed and they asked, ‘What would you like the rest of the world to know about Lydia?’ And he said, ‘She’s just one of the most humble and sweetest kids, but get her in the pool, and she’s going to be a fierce competitor.’

Grove: So what do you think it’s going to be like tonight? I mean, it’s a pretty quick race, right? What do you what do you think’s gonna sort of be the mood in the room?

Spanos: I had to catch my breath for a second because I’m just like, you say that, and I’m just instantly there, just thinking about it. Lydia is going to look like she’s lagging behind. And she’s going to hit that wall. And then she comes back. Her strong point is the last 50. And, oh, it’s going to be close. It’s going to be a real tight match. And, you know, right now, I think like her coach said, she’s playing on house money because she has nothing to lose. She’s 17. She’s just made her appearance. She’s most likely going to appear at the next Olympics. But she’s just come out of nowhere and she’s got the potential to medal tonight and it’s just overwhelming, but very exciting.

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Akiak to become first in Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with high-speed broadband internet

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is the second largest region in the United States without access to broadband internet, but not for much longer.

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Alaska News Nightly: Friday, July 23, 2021

Two people stand in zipper-up jackets and sweatshirts in front of a cruise ship.
Russ and Kacy Radigan were aboard the Serenade of the Seas on Friday, July 23, 2021. It’s the first big cruise ship to dock in Juneau since 2019. (Bridget Dowd /KTOO)

Stories are posted on the statewide news page. You can subscribe to Alaska Public Media’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @AKPublicNews.

Friday on Alaska News Nightly:

Cordova experiences its worst outbreak of COVID-19. And, a Seward resident tells the story of surviving a brown bear attack on the town runway. Plus, a new app allows fishermen to contribute their ocean observations to science.

Reports tonight from:

  • Tegan Hanlon in Anchorage
  • Liz Ruskin in Washington, D.C
  • Mike Swasey in Skagway
  • Bridget Dowd and Jeremy Hsieh in Juneau
  • Stephanie Maltarich in Dillingham


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Treating infertility in Alaska

A baby swaddled in a blanket
(Creative Commons photo by Dru Kelly)

Approximately one in eight couples are affected by infertility in the United States, and this number is increasing each year. A reproductive endocrinology physician provides advanced infertility procedures. In Alaska, however, patients must travel out of state for this treatment. Fortunately, we do have infertility services to bridge this gap and provide much needed evaluation and treatment options within the state.

HOST: Dr. Jillian Woodruff

GUESTS:

  • Rhianne Christopherson, APRN, Full Moon Fertility and Reproduction, LLC

LINKS:

PARTICIPATE:

  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (10–11 a.m.).
  • Send an email to lineone@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air).

LIVE BROADCAST: Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at 10 a.m. AKDT
REPEAT BROADCAST: Wednesday, July 28, 2021, at 8 p.m. AKDT

LINE ONE’S FAVORITE HEALTH AND SCIENCE LINKS:

SUBSCRIBE: Get Line One: Your Health Connection updates automatically by:

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‘It’s been a long two years’: First large cruise ship since 2019 docks in Juneau

A cruise ship at a dock on an overcast day.
Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas docks in Juneau on July 23, 2021. (Bridget Dowd / KTOO)

The first large cruise ship to dock in Juneau since 2019 arrived Friday morning.

Juneau residents say they mixed feelings about the ship’s arrival amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases. But, for the most part, the feeling at the dock and inside downtown businesses on Friday was one of hope.

Listen to this story:

Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas arrived in Juneau around 7 a.m., carrying less than 650 guests and a little more than 800 crew members. 

In non-pandemic times, the vessel has room for more than 2,400 passengers, but it’s traveling at a reduced capacity.

Russ and Kacy Radigan walked off the ship around 10 a.m. Traveling from Columbus, Ohio, this was their first time in Alaska and a long-awaited trip.

Two people stand in zipper-up jackets and sweatshirts in front of a cruise ship.
Russ and Kacy Radigan were aboard the Serenade of the Seas on Friday, July 23, 2021. It was their first time traveling to Alaska from Ohio. (Bridget Dowd /KTOO)

“We planned this Alaska cruise like two years ago before the pandemic happened and it kept on getting canceled and canceled,” said Russ Radigan. “This was the first Alaska cruise opportunity that we had (since then), so we decided to take it.”

The Radigans were on their way to see the Mendenhall Glacier and they’ve already been on several whale watches and other wildlife excursions. 

“We saw a number of whales, a number of seals and a number of otters and you know, we thought maybe we’d see one or two,” he said. “I think they were waiting for us.”

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Jeremy Schroeder was also aboard the Serenade of the Seas. He said despite the circumstances, he felt very safe aboard the ship and comfortable with the COVID-19 protocols that were in place.

“Most people (aboard the ship) are vaccinated,” he said. “Obviously the young ones aren’t, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by everybody still wearing their masks, even though we are all vaccinated.”

People walk on a dock, with a cruise ship in the background.
People walk on the dock in front of Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas. The ship docked in Juneau on July 23, 2021. (Bridget Dowd / KTOO)

Schroeder said he and his family were planning to take a helicopter tour out to the glacier if the weather held.

Of course, with safety protocols, came a much quieter scene at the dock on Friday. People were just slowly trickling off the ship and the booths offering whale watching and other tours were less than half full.

Greg Pilcher was manning one of the booths for M&M Tours.

“It’s pretty slow,” Pilcher said. “There’s not a whole lot of people on the ship, but I think we did better than expected. We wrote a couple tickets, which was great. I think we just wanted to get out here and like practice and remember how to do everything and it just feels really good that there are people here again because it’s been a long two years for sure.” 

RELATED: Alaska leads nation with steepest climb in coronavirus hospitalizations

Down the street, the Red Dog Saloon had just opened for the day and the employees weren’t wearing their usual street clothes. Waitress Emily Lange said the Red Dog is a different restaurant when the cruise ships come to town.

“This is my first day wearing the corset and the fun dress,” she said. “It’s more about the showmanship when the tourists come in. So we put on this getup and we’ll have live music and we’ll all sing along. I’m just excited for being busy all the time.”

Some cruise passengers made their way to the gift shops downtown, like The Bear’s Lair, where employee Kaysa Korpela said she’d already made some sales.

“There’s been a few customers coming through and I really appreciate that they’re mostly masked up,” Korpela said. “I think they got the word on the boat that it was respectful to do that and most of them have been very respectful and if they’re not masked they ask if they should be.”

RELATED: Uptick in COVID-19 cases prompts new restrictions in Juneau

A woman in face masks holds a mic to another woman in a face mask inside.
Bridget Dowd interviews Kaysa Korpela about business from cruise ship passengers on July 23, 2021. Korpela is an employee at The Bear’s Lair, a gift shop in Juneau. (Jennifer Pemberton / KTOO).

She said the passengers seemed excited to be there and most were just wandering around before going on tours later in the day. Korpela said she’s glad to see travelers in the store again.

“But I’m glad that it’s starting slowly because I wouldn’t want to see like five boats in the harbor all at once,” she said. “This is a good introduction. I’ve worked in this business for about four or five years now. Sometimes it can be pretty hectic but today has been pretty easy to handle.”

After leaving Juneau, the Serenade of the Seas is scheduled to dock in Ketchikan before stopping in Sitka for a second time on Wednesday. Another ship will also be in port in Sitka that day.


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Former Bethel elementary school principal gets 25-year state sentence

A blue building with a ramp leading to the front entrance
Nora Guinn Justice Center in Bethel, Alaska. (Dean Swope/KYUK)

A state judge sentenced former Bethel elementary school principal Christopher Carmichael on July 21 to a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended for sexual abuse of a minor. The judge imposed what he called a severe sentence because the former principal had abused the trust he cultivated in his victims and the community.

On July 21, 57-year-old Christopher Carmichael walked into the Bethel courtroom in an orange jumpsuit, face mask and handcuffs. The courtroom was relatively empty. No members of the public outside of KYUK were present.

Previously, the former teacher and principal had been a trusted, charismatic figure in Bethel. That was before he was arrested in 2019 and pleaded guilty to a state charge of sexual assault of a minor in the second degree.

Carmichael told the court that he accepted the plea agreement of 25 years so that the girls he abused, former students of his, wouldn’t have to testify in court and relive their traumas.

“I’m trying to own what happened, and accept responsibility for it, and serve the time that’s necessary to begin a healing process because many people have been affected by what’s happened here,” Carmichael said.

Carmichael’s attorney asked the judge to temper the severity of the sentence based on his client’s history. Carmichael told the judge about being diagnosed with PTSD from abuses he suffered as a child and from his time serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said that he never sought psychiatric help for either experience.

“And it’s not an excuse. I want to make that clear to the court,” Carmichael said. “If there’s any good that can come out of this situation, if you have been traumatized, seek help so that you don’t wind up in the situation I’m in now.”

Judge Terrence Haas said that the 25-year sentence the state and defendant had agreed upon was harsher than what most defendants would receive for similar crimes. However, he said that the sentence was warranted because of Carmichael’s abuse of power and trust that he had cultivated in his victims and the community.

“Your behavior here suggested an extraordinary desire to use your authority to insinuate yourself into the lives of these children, to use that authority to hide your behavior, to use that authority, which was given to you in order to protect children explicitly and specifically, to harm them,” Haas said.

Haas also said that he took into account the fact that Carmichael committed his crimes in a region with a tortured history of sexual abuse crimes by people in positions of power.

“The hope is other individuals who might come here, or who might be here, who might imagine that they could act in this way or take advantage of our community or our most vulnerable citizens in this way, that they would know and understand that the consequences would be as severe as the law permits,” Haas said.

Haas handed down a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended. He said that would likely translate to 10 years in prison with good behavior. Carmichael’s state sentence will run concurrently with the 15-year federal sentence he received a week ago.

Carmichael will have to register as a sex offender after his release, which will likely be when he is at least 70 years old. As part of his condition of release, he will not be allowed to use any internet-capable electronic device or be in contact with anybody under the age of 18.

Attention now turns to the school district that continued to employ Carmichael after multiple reports of the former principal’s inappropriate behavior with students. Attorneys for four girls have filed lawsuits against the Lower Kuskokwim School District, claiming that LKSD failed to protect the girls from sexual abuse at Carmichael’s hands. Jury trials for those lawsuits are scheduled to begin this fall.

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First Lady visits Anchorage. Her message: Get vaccinated

Two women talk, both wearing face masks, near medical equipment.
Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, speaks with First Lady Jill Biden on Wednesday. (Hannah Lies / Alaska Public Media)

First Lady Jill Biden was in Alaska for a few hours Wednesday. She came with a message.

“I’m asking all of you, who are listening right now, to choose to get vaccinated,” she said. “COVID is more contagious than ever, and it continues to spread. Even one hospitalization, one life lost is too many.”

This was a refueling stopover for Biden. She’s en route to Tokyo to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games. But Biden said she asked to do a little more while she was on the ground in Anchorage.

A woman in blue blazer speaks into a microphone, with women in face masks on either side of her.
First Lady Jill Biden speaks at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. To the left is Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and to the right is ANTHC President Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

On Wednesday afternoon, Biden visited the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the state’s largest tribal health organization.

There, ANTHC President Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, gave her an overview of the Alaska Native health care system and demonstrated how telehealthcare works for rural Alaska.

Two women wearing face masks talk inside, near big windows.
First Lady Jill Biden talks with Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. (Hannah Lies / Alaska Public Media)
A woman waves at another woman who appears on a screen.
First Lady Jill Biden waves at Dr. Cate Buley, the medical director of Primary Care Clinics at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. (Hannah Lies / Alaska Public Media)
Four people stand in a line, looking at a woman in a white coat who appears on a screen near them.
First Lady Jill Biden is briefed on telemedicine services. From left to right: Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, President of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, First Lady Jill Biden and Cardiologist Dr. Joseph Park. (Liz Ruskin / Alaska Public Media)

This was an opportunity to brief someone who has the constant ear of the most powerful man in the world, and Davidson took it. She explained how tribal organizations took over from the Indian Health Service to run the Alaska Native Medical Center. She also explained ANTHC’s work to build water and sewer systems in rural Alaska. And she told of the success they’ve had in fighting COVID-19.

“In some of our communities we have 100 percent vaccination,” Davidson said.

Biden also met with military families at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

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A woman in a blazer looks out of a window.
First Lady Jill Biden at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

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