Public health, economic leaders testify to joint legislative hearing
ANCHORAGE – Economists at a joint hearing of the Health and Social Services and House State Affairs committees urged the state to implement public health measures that will contain the COVID-19 virus and enable economic recovery.
“By successfully fighting the virus, we’re more likely for people to return to normal economic activity,” said Professor Kevin Berry, PhD, of the Institute of Social and Economic Research. “You can’t have economic recovery until the virus is contained.”
“As long as people are afraid of getting infected, you won’t have recovery,” added Center for Economic Development Executive Director Nolan Klouda.
Alaska currently has higher infection rates than many other urban and rural states, including Washington, Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and others. Anchorage’s infection rate has been cut in half since Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued public health mandates.
“The State of Alaska unfortunately set into motion a patchwork approach to confronting a global pandemic, which passes the buck to communities that often have limited capacity or enforcement powers,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), chair of the Health and Social Services Committee. “Fortunately, the Municipality of Anchorage stepped up and made tough choices to enact measures that protected the health of its residents and all Alaskans. As a result, statewide rates of COVID-19 have recently stabilized.”
Lack of state and federal public health measures mean infection rates remain too high to safely reopen schools or other areas of indoor congregation. At the hearing, staff from the Anchorage Health Department emphasized the importance of mask usage in reducing virus transmission. As Dr. Janet Johnston, Epidemiologist for the Municipality of Anchorage, said, “We need to protect public health in order to protect the economy.”
Rep. Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), co-chair of the State Affairs Committee, added, “The message today was loud and clear – effective public health measures are essential for Alaska’s economic recovery.”
Alaska House Majority