The time has come to move away from fear and hiding from COVID-19 and towards widespread but careful opening of Alaska’s businesses, churches and cultural life, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on May 19.
Starting Friday, May 22, businesses and other entities will be allowed to open at 100% capacity while being encouraged to continue health and hygiene advisories.
“I’m going to encourage all Alaskans to help our businesses and help our economy in Alaska by doing business in Alaska, and buying Alaska, and traveling Alaska and going out to eat in Alaska and ordering Alaska,” Dunleavy said. “We have to be careful about being in groups, and I know it sounds to some that there is a contradiction but it’s really not. We have to learn to manage the virus. We have to learn to live with it until those vaccinations come and those anti-virals.”
As Alaska reopens, residents are encouraged to remain vigilant in helping to prevent the virus’ spread. Guidelines like staying six feet apart from non-household members, washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, staying home when sick and wearing face masks in public are still advised.
Similarly, the state asks Alaskans to respect those who are most vulnerable to the virus, including senior populations and those with preexisting health conditions.
While most sectors of the state will open, several mandates remain in place for now.
The 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers will continue, but Dunleavy’s administration is working with airlines to ease this mandate ahead of its June 2 expiration date. There will also be ongoing restrictions for visitors to senior centers, prisons and other institutions.
Alaskans are still asked to self-quarantine if they contract that virus, and travelers within the state are advised to minimize their movement between communities.
Additionally, health care providers should maintain delaying elective medical and dental work for the time being, and commercial fishing vessels are under mandates to ensure the virus does not spread to Alaska’s fishing communities and seafood workers.
As the state expands economic and social freedoms, Dunleavy noted that some local communities may want to proceed at a slower pace. Businesses, too, may not choose to open at 100% capacity by Friday, he said.
Establishments that do open will be asked to police themselves as many have done for the past two months. In the event of local outbreaks, Dunleavy said the state will deal with those on a case-by-case basis, but he does not foresee returning to statewide mandates.
There are a whole host of issues that occur when you tell people to hunker down and hide.
“If there are clusters, we will deal with that,” the governor said. In essence, however, the state is moving away from mandates and towards guidelines and advisories.
When asked why he chose to reopen more rapidly that initially planned, Dunleavy pointed to the extremely low infection and hospitalization rates and said the numbers and data no longer justify widespread restraints that have taken a devastating toll on Alaskans.
“There are a whole host of issues that occur when you tell people to hunker down and hide,” he said. “The economy gets in trouble, people’s mental-emotional health goes sideways and spiritual health as well when you are dealing with churches that can’t have parishioners go in there because of fear of getting the virus.”
As of May 19, Alaska had just 41 active case of COVID-19 with 16 current hospitalizations. Overall, 399 people have been infected with 348 confirmed as recovered and 10 who have died. While these are some of the lowest numbers in the nation, Dunleavy said he expects infection rates to increase as Alaskans mingle more.
We’ve got to point the bow into the future and manage this virus and now is the time to do it.
“We know there are going to be case increases,” he said. “But we are prepared to deal with that.”
The goal, he said, has always been to manage the case load and not overburden health care facilities – those aims have been achieved.
“We’ve got to point the bow into the future and manage this virus and now is the time to do it,” Dunleavy concluded. “When the history is written on this and how this was dealt with, it is my hope that when people look back on it, they say that in Alaska’s case at least, it was individual Alaskans who kept the virus down.”
Click here for the most up-to-date official guidance from the state.
Click here to read COVID-19 mandates.