All persons entering the state are now required to self-quarantine for 14 days under a mandate announced Monday, March 23, to protect the health of Alaskans during the novel coronavirus pandemic that has already infected thousands of people worldwide.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said everyone, including residents returning from out of state, must adhere to the mandate to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. The mandate is effective 12:01 a.m. March 25 and the situation is to be re-evaluated on April 21.
“We will be going through this process (re-evaluation) for the next two weeks,” Dunleavy said. “We are in a pandemic.”
Residents, workers and visitors alike must now proceed directly from the airport to their designated quarantine location, which they must identify and affirm on a state of Alaska travel declaration form and remain there for 14 days, leaving only for medical emergency or to seek medical care. Those supporting critical infrastructure are exempt. The mandate supersedes any local government provisions.
A second mandate ordered that all businesses, or gatherings in which individuals are within six feet of each other to cease operations and that no gatherings of more than 10 people take place until further notice. Violators of the mandates are subject to a fine of up to $25,000 or up to a year in prison.
“These mandates that came in are essentially Alaska’s version of shelter-in-place, or stay at home, except the outdoors are lovely and they’re not dangerous for you so you can be outside safely distanced from others, but stay away from other people as much as you can,” said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.
“This virus is like fighting a war, but it’s a war against this silent, sneaky killer that is transmitted by the healthiest, youngest people who may have the smallest symptoms, and then without even realizing it infect the elderly, people who are pregnant, people who have underlying medical conditions,” Zink said.
State officials also announced during a news conference televised from Juneau that four more people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Alaska to 36.
The seven of the 17 confirmed Anchorage cases tested positive at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Seven others were from Fairbanks, six from Ketchikan, two from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and one each from Juneau, Seward, Soldotna and Sterling.
The new mandates came in the wake of pressure from the Alaska State Medical Association along with a number of physicians, in support of a travel ban to help stem spread of the virus.
Dunleavy said that vigilance was a necessity during the pandemic in order to assure that health-care facilities had the capacity, including supplies needed, to treat a rising number of patients.
“Nobody ever thought we’d be standing here today talking about a pandemic in 2020,” Dunleavy said.
But are Alaskans taking this pandemic seriously?
“We hope they take our advice,” Dunleavy said. “We know that it is spread from person to person by close contact so what do you do. You wash your hands. You distance yourself from others. You don’t go out in groups.”
Dunleavy also expressed concern for the impact of the pandemic on the state’s economy, which has been hard hit by lower prices for oil.
“We don’t know how this will turn out,” Dunleavy said. “I personally believe this will not be the end of the world, but it could send the economy into a recession or depression. He urged Alaskans to do their best to help the economy, by adopting a restaurant and ordering out and for businesses to think about whether they can hire people.
As a result of the pandemic a number of businesses have changed the way they operate for now, restricting or closing off physical access to customers and offering only drive-up service or curbside sales and delivery. Hundreds of people have, at least for now, lost their jobs in bars, restaurants and other establishments that are allowing only employees inside the premises.
In an effort to help out the suddenly unemployed, the Legislature has passed House Bill 308 waiving the one-week waiting period to apply for unemployment insurance.
“Pending the governor’s signature, this will provide some quick relief for Alaskans who are not able to work or who are underemployed because of public health measure related to COVID-19,” Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak said. “This bill also increases the weekly per-child benefit from $25 to $75, providing relief for families who have lost childcare and income simultaneously.”