Gov. Mike Dunleavy says in the coming days he plans to ease health mandates and push to a near-full reopening of Alaska, saying the state’s low COVID-19 numbers don’t justify any other course of action.
The governor said additional details on the reopening will come on Tuesday but that it will allow nearly everything save for large gatherings such as concerts. He acknowledged that there’s almost certainly going to be an increase in cases but said the state’s health care capacity is sufficient to manage a rise in new cases.
“We have to get our economy up and running, we have to get our society up and running,” he said. “In the end, and I’ve always said this, we’re a free country. We’re a free state. Our numbers are low. The numbers don’t justify us continuing anything but opening up.”
The move follows two initial phases where the state eased mandates allowing restaurants, bars, salons, gyms and retail stores to reopen to a limited capacity. The governor said the remaining health mandates will be consolidated as advice “for what you can do to stay healthy and what you can do to ensure that others around you stay healthy.” They would be voluntary, he said.
Alaska’s current case total sits at 399 with three additional cases (two in Anchorage and one in Willow) announced today. That number only covers Alaska residents, not travelers.
In addition to the Alaska-based cases that contribute to the official count, Alaska has seen some cases where seasonal out-of-state workers in Alaska’s fish processing industry have tested positive for COVID-19. This comes after communities warned about the spread, asking the state to limit or even cancel the fishing season.
Dr. Anne Zink, the state chief medical officer, said that they’ve seen “fairly high positive rates” for COVID-19 as the companies are screening potential workers. Dunleavy said enforcement of travel quarantines rests with the companies.
The governor acknowledged there will be a rise in cases as the state reopens, but said the state is prepared for a spike. Officials at the meeting said large orders of medical supplies are being fulfilled.
“You’re probably going to see the numbers grow as people interact with each other. That’s expected. Again, keep in mind the reason that we did what we did as Alaskans was to build health care capacity. We have that now,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to be moving into making sure that we get back to as close as normal as possible.”
“We don’t direct how people should live their lives,” Zink added, noting that the social distancing guidelines and face coverings are just suggestions.
Local communities can be more restrictive with the health orders. Anchorage has usually put a weekend between when the state’s loosened orders go into effect and when the city’s does. Both Anchorage and Juneau have delayed reopening of pools.
With the holiday weekend coming up, one reporter noted that it looked like several large gatherings could be held over the weekend and asked what kind of advice Dr. Zink would have for people considering attending those events.
“I’m making the choice to not be in those large gatherings, but it’s really up to individual Alaskans to make those choices and that responsibility themselves,” she said. “I hope that people choose to keep their friends and loved ones safe and healthy over this holiday weekend.”