Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold today commandeered the Senate Health and Social Services Committee to blast the Dunleavy administration on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, casting doubt that there was ever an emergency to begin with, demanding to know why the long-since debunked treatment of hydroxychloroquine isn’t readily available in Alaska and pushing conspiracy theories about the safety of the covid vaccine.
Committee chair Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, spent much of the meeting trying to wrangle fellow Republican members and allow Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum to get through his 16-page presentation on Senate Bill 56. The measure seeks to formally extend the emergency declaration through September as well as several other measures that have given the state, health officials and regulators flexibility to operate during the pandemic.
Reinbold was joined by Sens. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, and Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, in frequently questioning whether the emergency declaration was needed at all. Reinbold questioned the underlying assumptions that there was ever an emergency—seizing on Crum’s admission that some of the initial estimates on COVID were “fatally flawed”—while Costello worried “it sends the wrong message.”
“A lot of people think the disaster was declared based on faulty information, however some of the mandates that have your name stamped all over—and the governor and Dr. (Anne) Zink—is actually creating a catastrophe, economically and constitutionally,” Reinbold said. “I can personally tell you that I’ve felt completely sidelined by you guys.”
Reinbold has spent much of the last year using Facebook to spread doubt and disinformation about COVID-19, health measures and the vaccine (as well as conspiracy theories about the election, the U.S. Capitol riot, Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum). As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she hoped to continue to give platform to these ideas but after a single meeting with Crum, the administration has refused to participate.
Much of the ire from that meeting spilled over into the Health and Social Services Committee as Reinbold attempted to question Crum on the legal basis of the disaster declaration and the legal definition of “credible threat” and “disaster.”
But perhaps the most shocking moment of the meeting came when Reinbold demanded to know whether the state had made hydroxychloroquine—a malaria and autoimmune drug controversially floated by Trump as a covid treatment that despite the NIH saying it “provides no clinical benefit to hospitalized patients” has continued to be popular in far-right, fringe-y circles—or Ivermectin—which also has insufficient evidence backing it but has also recently become popular in far-right fringe-y groups—”completely and readily available” for doctors to treat covid-19 patients.
They’re “known to have very good outcomes. … Excellent,” Reinbold argued, later adding that several doctors and physicians had asked her to ask about it because, “It saves lives, genuinely saves lives.”
Crum responded that physicians are able to use “all available commercial items a doctor can prescribe or give to their patient.” But when pushed repeatedly by Reinbold on the question of hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, Crum responded through clenched teeth.
“Those are not items that came through the FDA’s emergency use authorization process so my department has nothing to do with that,” he said. “I do not know if they’re commercially available, I’m not a provider. If a provider wishes to find those and prescribe to those to their patient, they can.”
“So, no Ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine plan it sounds like for the disaster plan,” Reinbold responded. “I just want to get that on the record, super important.”
Later in the meeting, Reinbold would attempt to quiz Crum about the state’s vaccination plan—which has always been voluntary—asking about informed consent and liability while also throwing out concerns about people being paralyzed by them.
Why it matters
In the grand scheme of things, Reinbold’s line of questioning about debunked covid treatments and fear mongering over the vaccine isn’t all that surprising. Still, it’s notable that the Republican Senate Majority has given her such a platform and such time to continue to give platform to the concerns.
What was actually particularly notable about the meeting is the growing pushback against continuing the emergency declaration in any form. While Reinbold, Hughes and Costello represent the most far-right faction of the Senate Republicans, they still hold key positions that can and will make getting this legislation to the Senate floor very difficult.
Just what that will mean for Alaska isn’t entirely clear as Crum wasn’t able to make it through his presentation while answering their questions. He did say, however, that he was concerned about its impact on the state’s mass vaccination and mass testing efforts that rely on the state’s ability to quickly procure supplies, staff and contracts.
“The vaccine clinics, which have occurred around the state and have been so successful in keeping Alaska at number one of the vaccinated per capita, have occurred through us being able to rapid contracting with local providers and groups, procurement of space and items like this,” he said. “Typical government procurement process takes three months. Without the ability to do that … we would probably fall to the back of pack of vaccinations as a whole. … The whole situation and response. The safety metrics where Alaska leads, we would probably fall to the back of the pack.”