Employee at Anchorage DMV tests positive for COVID-19

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML.

In an email to employees at the Anchorage DMV on Friday, state officials said “that one more employee” in the Anchorage office has tested positive for COVID-19.

The state has not publicly disclosed any cases of COVID-19 at the DMV and the Alaska State Employees Association only learned of the case through an employee, said business manager Sam Rhodes in an interview today. Rhodes said the case is the latest example of the state’s poor communication with unions.

“Their story is all the protocols were followed but the union never knows when there’s been exposure in the workplaces because the state never tells us,” he said. “We only find out from our employees. …  The state should reach out to the various unions whenever their members have been exposed and there’s been workplace exposure.”

The Anchorage DMV recently moved to a new location at the University Center Mall and is currently operating only by-appointment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the email to employees, Deputy Director Jenna Wright says that normal procedures were used to isolate the individual and identify people at risk of exposure.

“As soon as they started exhibiting initial symptoms, the employee followed all proper quarantine and testing protocols,” she said. “Once they received positive results, other employees that were in possible close contact with the employee were notified and advised of the proper steps to take. If you were not notified, you were not identified to be at risk.”

But Rhodes said there’s still a fair amount of confusion among employees at the Anchorage DMV and noted that, to the best of his knowledge, the location was not closed for a deep clean similar to how other state facilities have been handled. He said he’s not sure if the individual interacted with the public.

“One thing that should have happened in this place is they didn’t close the facility and scrub it down. None of that happened as far as I know,” he said.

Unions have complained throughout the pandemic that the Dunleavy administration—which has taken a combative attitude towards unions—has not been communicative or responsive with union’s concerns about the pandemic. State officials have skipped out on several legislative hearings on workplace safety.

Rhodes said communication between the state and unions have devolved under the Dunleavy administration, lamenting Alaska is now “in a time when we need it most.”

Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka, who oversees both labor relations and the DMV, last week grabbed headlines for circulating a petition demanding that the Anchorage School District provide parents with direct payments.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop called the plan “a naïve perspective on how large public organizations function.”

Rep. Zack Fields, the Anchorage Democrat who’s chaired several of the hearings the state has skipped, said he’s been frustrated by the state’s refusal to work with the Legislature, unions or public health experts to ensure safety for both employees and the public.

“At multiple oversight hearings, public health experts have said state facilities need a universal mask policy and basic upgrades to HVAC systems,” he said. “Until the administration listens to and acts on these recommendations, unfortunately state employees and the public will face unnecessary risk.”

The email

Good Afternoon, 

I regret to inform you that one more employee in the Anchorage office has tested positive with COVID-19. As soon as they started exhibiting initial symptoms, the employee followed all proper quarantine and testing protocols. Once they received positive results, other employees that were in possible close contact with the employee were notified and advised of the proper steps to take. If you were not notified, you were not identified to be at risk. 

This experience is an unfortunate reminder of how important it is to follow distancing, sanitation and face covering guidelines. If we all stay six feet apart from each other, wear face coverings and practice good hygiene, we’re much less likely to contract this virus. We have the knowledge and power to keep ourselves safe so please, heed the recommendations of our health experts. 

I wish I had more cheery news before your weekend, but I hope you find something enjoyable to do and we wish our fellow team member a speedy recovery!

Jenna Wright 

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