By Dr. Jennifer Meyer. Meyer is a registered nurse and public health scientist who previously served as the president of the Alaska Public Health Association.
Alaska’s work with the pandemic is not over and a key piece of the effort is Senate Bill 56 that would extend the Statewide Emergency Declaration and assure our continued ability to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. It would allow for continued expedited purchasing, hiring, contracting, vaccine allocation and removing barriers to needed services like telehealth. The Legislature must act quickly.
Unfortunately, instead of inviting Alaskan public health experts and health care professionals who have been on the front lines fighting the pandemic for the last year, they have chosen instead to invite individuals pushing false claims and theories that aim to undermine guidelines and recommendations that that keep people safe and limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Which means we, as health care workers, have to drop what we are doing and take time out to convince our lawmakers that 1. we are still in a crisis, 2. it is critical to continue to respond and 3. it would be an unreasonable burden to choose to do anything else but pass this bill swiftly so we can get back to work fighting for the health and wellbeing of all Alaskans.
Below is testimony I wasn’t given the opportunity share during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Friday, Feb. 5:
My name is Jennifer Meyer; I am a registered nurse and a public health scientist. I am speaking today on behalf of the Alaska Public Health Association, one of the oldest and largest health associations in Alaska.
I would like to first extend my condolences to the families of the 277 Alaskans who have died from COVID-19. In addition, acknowledge the 5077 Americans who died from COVID 19 yesterday.
I’ll be as brief and as clear as possible:
We need to move fast. Most of the population of Alaska and the US remain vulnerable to this novel virus. NOT approving SB 56 threatens to move more Alaskans into avoidable suffering and death and guarantees our economic recovery will be delayed. It would be like walking off the ball field in the 6th inning.
I noted a significant error in thinking while listening to each Senator during the session today. It’s the rhetoric that somehow the public health restrictions -which keep people alive and SARS-CoV-2 spread low- are causing harm. Let us be very clear the uncontrolled spread of the novel virus is causing harm, not the public health guidance and restrictions. Control the virus and you will bring back more normal social and economic conditions.
In addition to acknowledging these errors in thinking please know the promotion of misinformation and false claims regarding the effectiveness of current mitigation strategies and safety of vaccines undermine these public health strategies and jeopardizes the health of all Alaskans.
We were alarmed during last week’s Judiciary hearing with the discussion of the Great Barrington Declaration and aim to correct the public record. This declaration was immediately rejected by mainstream science in October of last year and we have included links to those rebuttals and highlighted several of the baseless claims in our letter, as they are simply divorced from the evidence. Those documents were submitted to the committee last night and I hope you review them carefully.
As we have observed in Anchorage and throughout the world, individual actions, as well as public restrictions, are effective in controlling the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID-19.
The best way out of this crisis is through the rapid distributions of vaccines to at least 80% of the population, and possibly higher if variants become dominant. The sooner we complete that mission the sooner we can move into the recovery phase of the pandemic. The best action lawmakers could take at this time would be to swiftly approve SB 56 and allow all of us that have been engaged in responding to the crisis for the last year to continue doing our jobs limiting community spread and preventing avoidable deaths.
Thank you – Dr. Jennifer Meyer, Past President Alaska Public Health Association
And please consider taking action today. Please call your senator and representative and let them know how important it is to pass Senate Bill 56, extend this emergency declaration and stay in the fight against COVID-19. Stay alert against the spread of misinformation, check your sources and emotions before you share. And stay safe, wear your mask, socially distance and get the vaccine when it’s your turn.