‘I encourage the state to take politics out of the equation and do what’s best for Alaskans and those we love’
ANCHORAGE – The House Health and Social Services Committee, in a hearing chaired by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), heard testimony today from a group of State of Alaska officials and public health experts on the status of COVID-19 in our state.
The hearing marked the first time since February that Health Commissioner Adam Crum and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink testified before the committee.
Despite widespread fatigue with the inconveniences caused by the pandemic, Dr. Zink told the committee that health risks to Alaskans remain and the public should continue known protective measures such as wearing masks, physical distancing, and limiting social interactions to prevent spreading the virus. This is especially true given the steady and record-setting uptick in cases of the disease in Alaska.
“I’m grateful for the Department’s update on the public health emergency before us and that Dr. Anne Zink continues to express clear direction that simple measures like wearing face masks and physical distancing will make us less likely to get ourselves, our families, and our loved ones sick with COVID-19,” Representative Zulkosky said. “I encourage the State to take politics out of the equation and do what’s best for Alaskans by immediately issuing a temporary mandate that face masks are worn in public places where it’s difficult to maintain physical distance. It’s clear that additional resources are also needed to enforce health mandates across Alaska to keep rural communities safe during this time.”
During the hearing, the following was revealed:
- Commissioner Crum and Dr. Zink acknowledged the health benefits of wearing a mask but did not commit to supporting a face mask mandate, despite the recent calls for such a measure from hundreds of doctors and health providers and from economists who worry that delaying necessary public health measures will only deepen Alaska’s economic challenges.
- 32 percent of Alaskans have risk factors that increase the likelihood of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Additionally, in order to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of Alaskans would need to contract the disease. This makes the pursuit of herd immunity unrealistic and dangerous.
- The Department of Health and Social Services committed to allowing communities in unorganized areas of the state to implement more stringent measures to protect public health in communities that are off the road system.
- There continue to be questions about how the State intends to enforce public health mandates and advisories put in place to protect Alaskans in urban centers and rural communities. Accountability for people and organizations that break rules is increasingly important as we observe a steady increase in the number of cases.
- Commissioner Crum committed to a follow-up hearing with the House Health and Social Services Committee next month given the significant impacts COVID-19 is having on Alaska and how quickly the situation is changing.