Best of the West Special Edition: The new reality of air travel; lending a helping hand to rural and native communities; Mount St. Helen’s 40th anniversary interrupted by COVID-19

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest COVID-19 related news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 18, 2020. Photo courtesy of

Air Travel: The novel coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to nearly every sector of the American economy, including the airline industry. Governing Magazine reports that the pandemic has driven down demand as much as 95% for domestic air travel. To assuage travelers’ fears, many airports are implementing precautionary measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. At Los Angeles International Airport in California, a recovery task force is investigating the potential benefits of thermal cameras, touch-less kiosks, and other technologies. Dulles International Airport in Washington is also testing out thermal cameras, which can measure a passenger’s temperature with a high degree of accuracy. Learn more about what the future of air travel might look like.

Public Health Advocacy: Cora Neumann has started a nonprofit public health advocacy organization in Montana with the goal of creating an information and training hub for the state’s rural and native communities, according to Montana Public Radio. “Getting timely and comprehensive public health information to local leaders makes a huge difference in a community’s ability to respond, and to not respond from fear but grounded knowledge,” Neumann said. The organization will hold regular policy meetings and conduct public health assessments in partnership with local and county-level leaders. It will also spearhead a relief fund, with the goal of raising $500,000 to help tribal nations. Read more.

Drone Technology: As states look for creative ways to improve their COVID-19 monitoring efforts, many are turning to drone technology. At least 40 law enforcement agencies across the United States have used drones for coronavirus-related purposes over recent months, Route Fifty reports. But with this new technology comes a variety of considerations. “This is not a time to be, in my opinion, ramrodding the aircraft into the air,” said Matt Dunlevy, owner of the North Dakota-based drone company SkySkopes. “I think that this is a time to take particular care as to how drones are used.” Discover why experts are hesitant to embrace the new technology with open arms. 

Banking Assistance: Historically, Native American communities have had a difficult relationship with the banking system, and with the advent of COVID-19, these challenges have only increased. The Native American Bank in Denver, Colorado is looking to remedy this issue by helping tribal organizations navigate the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, according to Colorado Public Radio. To date, the bank estimates that it has helped businesses acquire approximately $38 million in loans, the vast majority of which were Native owned. “It's everything from small restaurants to large employment, could be hotels, even casinos,” said bank president Thomas Ogaard. “We've been able to support Indian Country on a number of different fronts.” Here’s why this type of assistance is so important.

Mount St. Helens: The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the cancelation of events nationwide. Add to that long list the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Washington’s Mount St. Helens. There was no observance on May 18, the day the massive volcano erupted in 1980, killing 57 people. The main highway into the national volcanic monument is closed, and multiple visitor centers and museums that had planned remembrances were shuttered, AP News reports. “We’ve been thrown for quite a loop here,” said Washington State Parks interpretive specialist Alysa Adams. “Please stay tuned for next year because I think we’re going to take all of this energy and passion and turn it into something productive for the 41st anniversary.” Find out more.

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