Best of the West: Librarians act as contact tracers; expanding broadband access in tribal communities; tracking COVID-19 using wastewater

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting June 22, 2020. Photo courtesy of Montana Public Radio.

Disease Detectives: In California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for at least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 residents, librarians, tax assessors, and other public workers are being tapped to help reach that target. According to Route Fifty, a new virtual training program, led by the University of California-San Francisco, teaches government employees about epidemiology, motivational interviewing, and how to make contact-tracing phone calls. “Talking about sensitive subjects is a natural thing for librarians,” said librarian Lisa Fagundes. “It’s a lot of open-ended questions, trying to get people to feel that you’re listening to them and not trying to take advantage or put your own viewpoint on their story.” Learn more about the new program.

Testing Tourists: The state of Montana has launched the Community Snapshot Testing Initiative in tourism hotspots, intended to catch COVID-19 outbreaks before they begin. The testing is free and available to anyone, regardless of whether they have shown symptoms or come in contact with a COVID-positive patient, reports Montana Public Radio. Local businesses such as Glacier Guides Montana Raft are thankful for the new program. “Our employees are definitely concerned,” said spokesperson Courtney Stone. “They’re going to be out there, on the river, once or twice a day, with usually eight guests per boat.” Here’s what else Montana is doing to keep its visitors and residents safe.

Tribal Broadband: In the era of remote work, virtual learning, and social distancing, broadband connectivity is more important than ever. For Native American communities, however, accessing these services can be an issue, with 35% of residents on tribal lands lacking internet access, according to KSUT Public Radio. Darrah Blackwater, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a graduate of Fort Lewis College and the University of Arizona, aims to change that. “I view [broadband spectrum] as a natural resource,” she said. “That means that the radio waves on the land have been on the land since what we call in federal Indian law, 'time immemorial.' Which means it's been there as long as the land, the mountains, the water, the air has been there.” Discover how Blackwater is fighting for what she calls “spectrum sovereignty.”

COVID and Wastewater: A joint research project between Clean Water Services and Oregon State University aims to trace the spread of COVID-19 using an unlikely method: sewer water. “When people get infected with coronavirus, your body acts by trying to kill it,” Ken Williamson, head of research at Hillsboro-based Clean Water Services, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “And as it kills it, it also kills the cells that it’s infected.” Williamson went on to explain that as these dead cells are expelled from the body, billions of viral particles are also shed, ending up in wastewater systems at detectable levels. If researchers can learn how to monitor these particles, it may give them the leg up they need to stop outbreaks. Read more about the science behind the process.

Into the Wild: An old Fairbanks city bus left abandoned in Alaska’s Denali National Park, immortalized by the popular nonfiction book Into the Wild, was recently removed by state officials, according to Alaska Public Media. “We encourage people to enjoy Alaska’s wild areas safely, and we understand the hold this bus has had on the popular imagination,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige. “However, this is an abandoned and deteriorating vehicle that was requiring dangerous and costly rescue efforts, but more importantly, was costing some visitors their lives. I’m glad we found a safe, respectful and economical solution to this situation.” Between 2009 and 2017, the state had to carry out 15 bus-related search and rescue operations. Find out more.

The Latest on the Western Governors’ COVID-19 Response

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts.

sign up for our newsletters