Health officials, employee groups urge face covering mandate, accountability, and worker safety
ANCHORAGE – Today, at a joint hearing of the House Health and Social Services and State Affairs committees, public health experts and state employee representatives urged the state to take additional measures to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks as Alaska’s economy re-opens.
“It is a false choice to suggest we can have either economic reopening or protect public health,” said Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), who co-chairs the House State Affairs Committee. “Only by stomping out this virus in Alaska, and preventing re-introduction from Outside, can we resurrect our economy and save lives.”
Health and Social Services Committee Chair, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), added, “We heard testimony today that provides an important reminder of how harmful COVID-19 can be, and that there is still a long way to go before the virus is truly eradicated. The State of Alaska must do everything in its power to make sure Alaskans stay healthy as we begin the fragile process of reopening our economy. I encourage state officials to follow the advice of public health experts and labor representatives who testified today.”
Andy Elsberg, M.D., urged the state to mandate face coverings in public spaces and to monitor and enforce quarantine measures for travelers entering Alaska. He also recommended expanded testing for high-risk facilities such as the Pioneer Homes and correctional facilities. Dr. Elsberg noted that COVID-19 has resulted in severe infection and death for Alaskans of all ages and stressed the importance of minimizing the viruses’ spread.
Jake Metcalfe, President of Alaska State Employees Association, urged the state to provide adequate personal protective equipment, notify state employees within 24 hours when a coworker who works in the same location tests positive for COVID-19, and collaborate with public employee unions on comprehensive safety planning to minimize COVID-19 transmission. The Alaska AFL-CIO recently drafted a COVID-19 safety plan after the Dunleavy Administration failed to consult with unions on safety measures.
Randy McClellan, President of Alaska Correctional Officers Association, requested that the state partner with the union on safety planning, accept offers of assistance to expand COVID-19 testing of officers and inmates, and make N-95 masks available upon request.
Erin Bromage, PhD, detailed the risk of COVD-19 transmission in buildings, explaining that social distancing alone in many cases will not protect individuals from infection at workplaces such as offices, restaurants, and other indoor spaces. He published this this paper on transmission risk.
Alaska House Majority