ANCHORAGE — Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced at Friday’s press conference on COVID 19 that 10 more Alaskans and another non-resident tested positive on Friday for COVID 19 and 157 Alaskans now have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Dunleavy said that two more people have been hospitalized bringing that total up to 15. On Friday, Health Alert 10 went into effect per the DHSS recommending that all Alaskans wear a cloth face covering in a public setting where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. The DHSS Health Alert from Commissioner Adam Crum specifies that the mask should cover the nose and mouth and that the wearer should not touch the front of the covering when removing it. Zink also recommended that Alaskans wash their hands as soon as they remove their masks if they must go out into public areas.
“If you do need to go into public to go to the grocery store or you have work or a job that requires you to be near other people, considering wearing something that covers your mouth and nose and that is to prevent asymptomatic spreading in case you have it. So as we talked about yesterday, I think we’re getting to the point that we really just have to assume we all have COVID and we could be spreading it, particularly with the risk of asymptomatic spreading,” said Zink. “I really appreciate industry helping us to produce more of those and trying to get those out to as many people as possible and I think this partnership with people being able to make masks or even using a balaclava, some sort of way to prevent their spread as well as producing masks will help us to get to a better point.”
On Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Services website tracking cases of coronavirus changed it’s look, sparking some confusion among people trying to navigate the new way the information was presented in the data hub.
“We’re trying to align our standards with our national guidelines and some of those national guidelines have changed and we’re continuing to make sure that we’re implementing privacy standards but making sure Alaskans have as much information as we possibly can,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “We have a total cumulative recovered that we can count at 16, although we suspect there’s much more. We’re just working through that data.”
On Friday, ten new cases of Alaskans were identified to have COVID 19 while one positive test result was from a non-resident. Of the 157 total cases in Alaska, 49 are attributed to travel and 69 are locally attributed. The Mat-Su Valley still has four confirmed cases of coronavirus with three in Palmer and the most recent positive in Wasilla on April 1, which has not been listed as either travel or locally related. Of the three cases in Palmer, one is travel related and one is locally related. More than 6,000 Alaskans have been tested for COVID with a positive rate of 2.6 percent, according to Zink.
“We are trying to learn and listen from others as quickly as we can with as much information and the unified message I hear from all of my colleagues around the country and around the world is prepare now and do everything you can to slow it down now,” said Zink.
Zink emphasized the risk of asymptomatic spreaders and reiterated that a mask is not a substitute for social distancing measures to help contain the spread of COVID 19. Zink said that Alaska received 60 ventilators from the national stockpile and that 20 have been confirmed as functional by Providence Medical Center in Anchorage while the other 40 are still being worked through. Zink said that data on what medical resources and personal protective equipment have been distributed will soon be available on the data hub.
“We seem to be holding our own and we seem to be doing better than the vast majority of states with regard to the number of tests we’re giving per capita and, but also the numbers of folks that have been infected, hospitalized and we’re still hanging in there in terms of folks that have not succumbed to this disease yet,” said Dunleavy.
Dunleavy said at a press conference earlier in the week that additional measures to help stabilize the economy would be rolled out next week as his office examines the budget passed by the Legislature and the Federal relief monies that have been made available by Congress through the CARES act. On Friday, Dunleavy allowed many of his commissioners to update the public on work they continue and payments they are suspending to help stabilize the Alaskan economy.
“What we’re trying to do is keep the employee, the worker associated with the business they were working for and hopefully we keep that relationship together so that when we get through standing up our health care system to deal with this pandemic, we can start to throttle back on some of the mandates and some of the advisories so we can get our lives back to normal. This is going to help keep that relationship together,” said Dunleavy.
Small Business Administration paycheck protection loans are available and could cover up to two and a half times the payroll of a small business.
The paycheck protection loans will be forgiven if the employees are kept on for a period of eight weeks. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune said that the DEC remains committed to protecting Alaska’s health and environment during the pandemic and is sensitive to difficulties Alaskan permit holders and members of the regulatory community are facing.
“We want to work with them,” said Brune. “We’re doing our best to do our part to ease their burdens.”
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said that the payment suspensions through are being worked through implementation plans and will be completed by the close of business on April 6. Feige announced that retroactive to April 1 and extending to May 11, the Division of Mining, Land and Water are suspending all payments on state land sale contracts, leases and land use permits.
The Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation is suspending payments on commercial operating permits of which Feige said there are more than 600 earlier this week.
The Division of Forestry is suspending fees for personal firewood collection and beach log salvage. Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka updated changes to the Alaska Care health care plan, which covers over 90,000 people.
An ‘exciting’ feature
“This is one of the most exciting features of this health care plan. You do not need to leave home to have access to telephone or video consultation with a real doctor and for the time being, it is absolutely free. That’s right, there is zero charge to have consultation with a doctor. Not only that but more, we’ve also expanded the types of coverage that you can have with teledoc,” said Tshibaka. “We don’t want anyone to be left out during this time.”
Tshibaka said that costs for treatment for COVID 19 have been waived for those with the Alaska Care health care plan along with lower or upper respiratory infection testing and diagnostic costs.
People with Alaska Care will not lose health care coverage if they cannot make their premium payment and teledoc services were expanded to include emergency department, neonatal, pediatric care, intensive care, physical and occupational therapy, counseling therapy and speech and language pathology.
Department of Transportation Commissioner thanked Dunleavy for suspending administrative codes that directly relate to the ability of DOT to conduct business.
“I want to assure the public that the department is open for business and we want to make sure that all of the state is,” said Mackinnon. “The supply chain to much of the state and commerce must remain open.”
Mackinnon said that DOT would be lenient in allowing for heavy trucks to transport goods to Alaskan communities.
Fees for permits for overweight and oversized vehicles have been suspended to include seasonal rate restrictions.
Forget those fees
Cancelation fees for the Alaska Marine Highway System have been waived and Mackinnon said that ships sladed for reintroduction into the AMHS in two weeks are being pushed back to at least May, speculating that the ferry maintenance may be delayed further. Annual certifications for weighing and measuring devices required by DOT has been extended until the devices can be certified.
“I want to assure you the construction projects will move forward with all of the necessary health and safety precautions in place,” said Mackinnon.
Dunleavy said that $1.25 billion in Federal relief monies headed to Alaska is not a bailout, but that the Alaskan economy must freeze due to social distancing to put the health of Alaskans ahead of the stabilization of the economy.
“This is one of the one in 100 year events where the government itself shuts down. Well, we have the best economy in the history of this country and many ways one of the best economies we’ve had in Alaska in terms of unemployment, foreclosures et cetera. We stopped that, so we feel we have an obligation to keep this economy in one piece until we get through this process, but we’re going to continue to look at how we can get cash into the hands of businesses and Alaskans so they can pay their bills, buy their food, put gas in their car,” said Dunleavy.