ANCHORAGE – The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony today from workplace safety experts and labor leaders on the steps needed to protect workers from COVID-19. Members of the Dunleavy Administration were invited to participate but declined to attend.
One of the major concerns raised by mechanical engineering experts – including Shelly Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder and Julia Luongo of Ramboll Group – is that most buildings lack proper ventilation to bring in a constant flow of fresh air or contain effective filtration systems to remove the virus from the air. This means one sick person could infect many others in a building, including people working more than six feet from one another. Dr. Andy Elsberg urged the administration to implement a universal face covering requirement in state buildings and supply surgical masks to state employees.
Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, testified that many state workers are being required to work from the office. Even some who are able to work effectively from home, and workers who are personally at a high risk of serious complications from COVID-19 or care for someone who is, are being forced to choose between their health and their job.
“Countless Alaskan workers are putting their health and safety on the line by showing up to the office during a pandemic,” said Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), co-chair of the House State Affairs Committee. “As we heard today, sadly, state buildings lack the infrastructure and systems needed to keep workers healthy. The Dunleavy Administration is failing to take these life and death issues seriously and must work with employees’ unions to improve workplace safety.”
The House State Affairs Committee has held four hearings on workplace safety issues, at which public health and workplace safety experts urged the administration to implement universal mask mandates, issue workplace safety standards, and update HVAC filters and settings to improve indoor air quality. The administration has failed to take these steps while the pandemic spirals out of control in Alaska.
Alaska House Majority