City Initiates COVID-19 Testing Incentive Program

Damon Oscar stands behind the YKHC testing sign-up table inside the Alaska Airlines terminal to give out information on the gift card program and the City's layover lodging program. Photo by John Sargent/COB

by John Sargent

It was during a full-day meeting of the Emergency Operations Center in City Hall when City Manager Vinny Corazza came up with the idea for the COVID-19 Testing Incentive Program at the Alaska Airlines terminal property.

He was describing to Department Heads in attendance how YKHC had set-up a COVID-19 test site at the Alaska Airlines parking lot. He mentioned to the group that only about 40% of those deplaning from Anchorage volunteered to be tested and that YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman was quoted as saying he wished 100% of those arriving were tested.

Corazza threw the question to the group, “How can we use CARES Act money to increase the testing numbers?” It was understood that the City of Bethel did not have the powers to mandate COVID-19 testing because of its status as a second-class City.

“If I gave you twenty dollars would you get tested?” asked Corazza. “What about $25?”

Many of the City Department Directors raised their hand at the twenty-five dollar amount.

“That seemed to be the tipping point,” said Corazza, “the magic amount that would motivate someone to subject their nostrils to the swab.”

“By giving out gift cards instead of cash, we can promote Bethel businesses,” said Corazza.

The City set up an EZ-Up tent on the Alaska Airlines parking lot adjacent to the YKHC test site and ran the program for the past two weekends. The first weekend of July 25-26, the City gave out 55 cards on Saturday and 69 on Sunday. The City gave out 50 cards on Saturday, August 1st to reach 61% of arriving passengers. The City gave out 60 cards on Sunday, August 2nd to reach 70% of arriving passengers.

YKHC employee and arriving passenger Charles Edwards said this about the program, “It’s a beautiful thing; I love coming back to Bethel.” Another woman passenger said, “It’s great. Thank you for doing it.”

“Our goal is to keep Bethel safe and stop the coronavirus from spreading to the community,” said Elizabeth Sargent, one of the temporary workers handing out gift cards. “They come from the test area with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces.”

YKHC COVID response team member Lori Chikoyak said, “I am happy the City of Bethel supports the testing program.” To her fellow nurses, Lori was overheard saying, “We are saving the world, one swab at a time.”