ANCHORAGE — Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum hosted Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg, acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen and others on a press conference Monday to detail Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s new disaster declaration that took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday.
Dunleavy’s new disaster declaration contains eight Health Orders, suspending regulations, allowing for telework and detailing restrictions and protocols for critical infrastructure and travel inside and outside of Alaska.
“We really did this because we were looking at where the numbers were at and yes, the more and more cases we have the lower our hospitalization rate and the lower our fatality rate are. That being said, a very little percentage of a very high number still means we still have many bodies entering or persons and patients entering the hospital for hospitalization and an increase in the pressure across the board,” said Crum. “We want to make sure we’re looking at the health and holistic care of Alaskans which is why the Governor did what he did last week. It was the seriousness of his message using the tool of the emergency alert system as he did to really show everyone the gravity of the situation to make sure that we pay attention to this so we don’t have to get to these inconceivable next steps which we don’t want to get to.”
Dunleavy’s previous Health Mandates 1 through 18 have either expired, been superseded, rescinded, or are no longer valid, according to Dunleavy’s press release. The measures put in place in Health Order 8 detailing intrastate travel and defining critical infrastructure require that persons traveling to communities off the road system receive negative tests results 72 hours before arrival. There is a second section of Health Order 8 that pertains to rural Alaska and takes effect on Nov. 21.
“The whole intent behind this health orders is that we are saying if you are going to leave the road system and go out to the rural community that you get tested, specifically if it’s more than 72 hours,” said Hedberg.
Previous health mandates 10 and 17 that pertained to commercial fishing protocols have now become Health Order 5 defining critical infrastructure, the fishing industry in particular. Health Orders 2 and 3 allow for licenses for telehealth backgrounds and provide for nonprofits and businesses to conduct meetings electronically and Health Order 4 provides FEMA reimbursement for temporary sheltering and quarantine.
“The unified message across the board is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Dr. Fauci said today on a call that the cavalry is coming with two vaccines in the last two weeks that actually have independent data reviews showing over 90 percent efficacy, that actually does show that we can actually get there,” said Crum. “How this is going to come about is with these vaccines if they get to their official emergency use authorization, they’ll be deployed and they’ll actually go to our healthcare workers first and once that happens it will remove this giant risk that we have right now of our healthcare system collapsing all at once and it will protect our healthcare workers, keep them in there so we can actually deal with increased pressure across the system. This is really what we’ve been working and planning towards.”
Acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen defended the governor’s right to declare a second disaster and said that the governor would wait to see possible pending legislative action before determining if a third disaster declaration would be warranted. Sniffen talked at length about the ongoing discussion about whether or not second class boroughs such as the Mat-Su Borough have the authority to mandate masks and whether that falls under health powers.
“There’s I think some confusion over what does it really mean to have health powers and you don’t really need health powers to issue like a mask mandate,” said Sniffen. “You can define health powers in a bunch of ways but the kinds of things that we see most municipalities want to do really don’t require that you have health powers to do, you just need disaster powers and every municipality does have that. So things like I said, limiting folks and reqing social distancing and asking people to wear masks, that’s not a health power, that’s just asking people to do the right thing and help prevent the spread of this disease.”
Sniffen said that all cities in Alaska have the ability to develop their own disaster plans that take effect upon the disaster declaration from the governor.
“When it comes to the second class boroughs the second class cities, we’ve had some discussion about that on whether or not those powers spring form something the Governor has to do or whether they have those powers themselves and I think we’ve discussed that a little bit and we think those entities also you know, have their own disaster plans and enact those on their own as well,” said Sniffen. “Every municipality in the state has the authority to develop a disaster plan and that disaster plan can be implemented once the Governor declares a disaster, so those disaster plans are things that every municipality can have, even second class boroughs, second class cities. There’s no differentiation there.”
Crum praised Dunleavy’s personal phone call to the CEO of Abbott for the delivery of more rapid testing machines and said that testing supplies were plentiful and Alaskans should seek testing.
“At this point in time we seem to have enough supply to continue to push that we want individuals to go get tested. If they show any symptoms at all, if they feel like they may have been exposed, there is no limitation. We can do asymptomatic testing,” said Crum.
Crum said that Dunleavy’s emergency alert was specifically positioned after the election frenzy had subsided to grab the attention of Alaskans.
“In a little bit of this information vacuum, the governor used that opportunity to really push home to Alaskans the situation that we’re in,” said Crum. “I think we’ve already seen positive aspects, we’ve gotten feedback from our partners in rural Alaska that they have already seen some enhanced behaviors. We’ve seen large planned groups and events that actually have canceled or postponed for the next month or two as they really see the gravity of the situation we’re in so it is having the intended effect about where we’re at and what are the things we need to do together to really slow this down.”