Gov. Mike Dunleavy held another press conference on COVID-19 Wednesday ahead of the presumed expiration of his disaster declaration. With the Alaska House of Representatives yet to organize and passage of both bodies of the legislature required to extend the declaration past 30 days, Dunleavy discussed what would change as his disaster declaration expires at midnight on Sunday and what will largely remain the same.
“We’re still working with the legislature and we’ll see what happens but like I said, in the end I want Alaskans to be assured, we’re still going to manage this virus. We’re still going to deal with the vaccinations. We’re still going to have testing available,” said Dunleavy “With the legislature in session It’s in their hands as to whether this emergency is extended or whether it’s not.”
Nearly 200 regulations that had been suspended under the disaster declaration are likely to expire and leave the state without various measures put in place to promote social distancing and ease business. Dunleavy combated misinformation about COVID-19 and the effects in multiple aspects, starting with the ability of first class municipalities to enact their own mitigation strategies. First class cities are granted health powers under the Alaska Constitution and able to enact mask mandates, among other restrictions on businesses within city limits.
“Anchorage can still continue to have an emergency declaration related to the pandemic and continue to mitigate, whether that’s restrictions on businesses, entities, how they hold meetings, etc. They have separate health powers and the same for a city for example like Juneau, first class cities. So in our constitution, there are processes laid out that allow first class cities to manage emergencies such as a pandemic separate from the state,” said Dunleavy.
Dunleavy reiterated that the 53 school districts across Alaska were also charged with enacting their own mitigation strategies separate from the state’s disaster declaration. School district mitigation plans have been funneled through the Department of Education and Dunleavy encouraged schools to provide in-person instruction as soon as possible. Dunleavy would not go as far as asking the Alaska House of Representatives to extend his disaster declaration. The House has been deadlocked for three weeks without an organized majority, although Utquagvik Independent Josiah Patkotak was elected Speaker Pro Tempore last week. On Wednesday, the House held a floor session, but no nominations for speaker were offered.
“We believe that the declaration allows us to have tools that will make it easier and quicker to be able to deal with it and what we’re saying is if the declaration if not extended, we’re not going to throw up our hands. We’re going to just roll up our sleeves like we always have and approach this virus in a science, data based approach like we have been for the past 13 months, but with that said, would a declaration assist us, yes. If there Is no declaration, is it going to throw us into chaos, we don’t know. We don’t think so, but certainly an extension would help the cause,” said Dunleavy. “I believe we have some tools in place. It’s just with the declaration it makes it a lot easier we become a lot more nimble.”
Despite the uncertainty around the expiration of the disaster declaration, Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg announced that the Tier 2 of vaccination eligibility would open to five more groups of Alaskans. To date, 52 percent of all seniors have been vaccinated and above 80 percent of all long-term care facility residents have received vaccinations. There have been 48,153 Alaskans who have completed their vaccination series and 114,117 have received their first dose.
“Seniors make up just 10 percent of our population, but they’re over 70 percent of our deaths and 50 percent of our hospitalizations and that is a big part of the reason why we stayed on this tier to make sure they got vaccinated,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. “We continue to track the number of vaccinations and it shows that we have vaccinated 22 per 100,00 people. We are the most vaccinated state in the country with over 114,000 people vaccinated to date.”
Hedberg detailed the five groups that will be able to schedule vaccination appointments beginning Thursday, Feb 11. Anyone ages 50 and older with high risk medical conditions (defined by the Centers for Disease Control) including cancer, heart conditions, immune compromised, those suffering from sickle cell disease or diabetes, as well as other conditions make up the first group. Hedberg was excited to announce that anyone who is an educator, which has been broadly defined to include more than just school district classroom staff, will be eligible for vaccinations. Essential workers over the age of 50 who are working within six feet of customers will become eligible as well as local pandemic response staff members. Finally, Alaskans living in congregate settings such as prisons, psychiatric facilities, group hopes, domestic violence shelters and residential treatment facilities will become eligible for vaccination today.
“As we have seen through our outbreaks in ak when we have a lto of individuals that are living in close proximity with each other in congregate settings we have seen covid kind of go through those centers,” said Hedberg.
Zink noted that Alaska’s percent positivity has dropped to 2.52 percent and the 22.18 doses per 100,000 residents is the highest rate of vaccination in the nation. There were 116 new cases ov COVID-19 announced on Wednesday. Zink also discussed at length the reporting of adverse reactions to vaccines that has been uploaded to the VAERS database, but is not verified by the state. Data on adverse reactions is sent to the CDC.
“At this time the CDC has not reported any deaths associated with the COVID-19 vaccine and two serious adverse reactions here in the state of Alaska, both of those were anaphylactic type reactions that were treated quickly,” said Zink.
Dunleavy also took time during his closing comments to combat misinformation. Asked during the press conference about the institution of marshall law, Dunleavy vehemently denied that such measures had even been discussed at the state level and challenged anyone spreading misinformation to provide factual evidence.
“You’ll find that here has been some misinformation being spread and that really needs to be corrected,” said Dunleavy.