Dear Neighbors & Friends,
Hope everyone is hanging in there! This is a long e-news, packed with information. Before scrolling down, please mark your calendar for our online Constituent Meeting this Saturday, March 21 from 3-4:30pm. We will NOT be meeting in person. To reduce exposure, Senator Begich and I will remain in Juneau, and allow you to stream or call in from your homes. Tune in to www.alaskalegislature.tv, or 563-9085 to listen in. We are asking neighbors to please send or call in your questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com so we can be prepared with answers.
The Covid-19 pandemic is coming at us and we are taking steps each hour and day to address the impacts and reduce the burden on families and communities. Right now I know there are neighbors really worried about paying basic essentials like rent and food because hours have been cut. Today our House Majority introduced priority legislation to start to address these issues. House Bill 308 is a personal priority and I have been pushing for swift action to address the economic harm being caused by Covid-19. We are moving quickly to have this bill pass by sending it to only one committee, the Rules Committee. We hope to have a floor vote today or tomorrow. This means within days some new avenues for relief can be established.
Also today the Senate passed House Bill 234, the supplemental budget bill that includes Medicaid funding and funding for the very costly fire season. That bill was amended to include $23.5 million for coronavirus response. This is the second bill to pass with funding to address coronavirus. The mental health budget passed last week with the first installment of funding for our public health response and these funds today will strengthen that effort.
We are also working at the state level and with our local and federal partners on several different economic supports to include, but not limited to extensions of unemployment benefits, relaxing the rules on unemployment to include underemployed individuals who have lost hours with business closures, to cover lost wages because of child and family care, and to cover basic expenses like rent and food. Additional efforts are being made to prevent any evictions and today the federal government announced limiting foreclosures.
One thing I love about our area is how much we take care of each other. Please call us if you are at risk of losing housing or are experiencing any other crisis. Please alert us if you have an elderly neighbor who needs assistance. We want to help!
The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting life in Alaska, across the country, and around the globe. During this time of uncertainty, accurate information is vital in making informed decisions. The sources below will provide frequent updates and will be accurate information. Please use these sites rather than social media where information has often been wrong.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has created a special coronavirus webpage that includes the most up to date information for Alaska. The most up to date national information can be found on the COVID-19 webpage from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What many people are likely interested in is the Case Counts page that shows how many cases in Alaska, the US, and across the globe.
Many Alaskans travel, and with the pandemic, many are traveling home to Alaska from around the globe. Everyone traveling should know and follow the **Covid-19 Health Alert** guidance issued March 15 by Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer. This ADN article provides a good summary of the restrictions and risk categories.
With travel we must remember and remind ourselves that our actions protect not only ourselves and our loved ones, but any other vulnerable people around us and in our community.
Monday morning, March 16, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz signed an emergency order:
- All bars, breweries, and restaurants in Anchorage must close at 5:00 p.m. today for dine-in service through the end of the month
- Drive-thru, take-out, and delivery services are allowed
- All entertainment facilities will close starting at 5:00 p.m. through March 31
- The order covers all theaters, gyms, and bingo halls
- Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned
- There are no restrictions on grocery stores
The Municipality of Anchorage has declared a state of emergency and closed all municipal facilities where large crowds can gather.
Municipal facilities that are closed:
- All municipal libraries
- The Anchorage Museum
- The Egan and Dena’ina Convention Centers
- The Sullivan Arena
- Municipal recreation centers in Mountain View, Fairview, and Spenard
- The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
- Centennial Campground
- The Kincaid Outdoor Center
- The Lidia Selregg Chalet
- The Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse
- All municipal pools
The Catholic Archdiocese of Anchorage has canceled all church-related activities, including masses, until March 27. The LDS Church has also announced temporary temple closures.
- Alaska is under a public health disaster emergency declaration
- A unified command structure has been set up that includes the Departments of Health and Social Services, Public Safety, and Military and Veterans Affairs
- The state of Alaska is also prohibiting public dine-in service at all restaurants, bars, breweries, cafes and similar establishments, and closing all entertainment facilities, including theaters, gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys and bingo halls effective 5 p.m. Wednesday and ends at 5 p.m. April 1. Under the dine-in restrictions, salad bars and buffets are also closed to self-service.
- Alaskans with coronavirus questions can dial 211 on their phones for information
- In places without 211 service, dial 1-800-478-2221
- Alaska 211 is a service of the United Way, and phone workers can direct callers to resources and answers
- The state is limiting visitors to the Alaska Pioneer Homes (Screenings before visits)
- The State of Alaska has closed visitation at:
- Department of Corrections
- Division of Juvenile Justice
- Military Youth Academy
- Alaska Psychiatric Institute
- All 507 public schools in Alaska are closed to students through March 30
- The move impacts 137,000 school-age children and young adults
- Teachers and staff will be doing in-service workdays
- All after school activities are canceled
- 22 states and the District of Columbia have closed schools
University of Alaska
- The University of Alaska is taking steps to end in-person classes
- Starting March 23, the University of Alaska will transition to online classes
- The university is also extending spring break by 1 week
- The university is limited in-person teaching
- The university is canceling large campus events of 25 people or more through March 31
- The University of Alaska system has over 6,500 employees and over 21,000 students
- Alaska Pacific University has canceled all in-person classes through Friday, March 20
- Over 7,038 cases in the U.S.
- 97 deaths
- Clinical trials for a vaccine have begun
- 12 to 18 months until it would be ready for widespread distribution.
- The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new COVID-19 test that should increase the testing capacity across the U.S. This also means that we should be prepared to see a spike in the number of positive cases.
- The CDC recommends limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people.
- The Department of Defense is restricting travel by service members and others in response to the COVID-19 virus
How to Prevent the Spread of the Coronavirus
The COVID-19 virus is spread by respiratory droplets expelled from an infected person who coughs, sneezes, or exhales. If you can, prevent any contact with these droplets. Older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease should avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
Follow these recommendations:
- Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Avoid contact with people who are sick
- Stay home and avoid others when sick
- Postpone large events or gatherings
- Practice social distancing – at least 6 feet apart from others
Symptoms can appear as soon as two days after being infected with the coronavirus, and symptoms can last as long as 14 days.
Be aware of the following:
- The number one symptom of COVID-19 infection is a high fever of over 100.4 degrees. Other symptoms include a dry cough and shortness of breath.
- If you develop symptoms associated with the coronavirus, stay home, and contact your healthcare provider.
- If you don’t have a healthcare provider, you can call Alaska 211 for information on how to get help
- In Anchorage, you can dial 2-1-1 or call toll-free 1-800-478-221
- The CDC is advising households with sick family members to have only one family member care for the sick individual
- If possible, give the sick person a separate room and keep the door closed
Call your health care provider if you have signs of fever, shortness of breath, or cough.
- The Alaska Division of Insurance requires health insurers to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing, office visits, and trips to the emergency room
- The waiver applies to in-network and out-of-network providers, facilities, and laboratories
- The Division of Insurance is encouraging health insurers to “liberalize telehealth benefits during this period of increased infection.”
- The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is asking all patients, providers, hospitals, and surgical centers to consider minimizing, postponing or canceling all non-urgent or elective procedures for 3 months
- The request is to decrease the overall impact on the Alaska health care structure
Q & As to date
As I’m getting constituent questions, I’ve been seeking to find answers. Here are some so far. We are in unprecedented times so patience, resilience, and kindness will be important as we find a path forward. There will undoubtedly be detours, dead ends, and a lot of bumps.
Q. How will students without internet get announcements and do schoolwork?
A. Teachers will spend Tuesday (3/17) and Wednesday (3/18) reaching out to families to gain more understanding of needs in preparation for supplemental learning and other supports that may be needed while schools are closed. If you have more than one child enrolled at ASD, you may receive more than one call. Anchorage School District (https://www.asdk12.org/COVID-19)
Q. What happens if I cannot pay my rent (or mortgage) due to coronavirus impacts on work and income?
A. My office has reached out to RuralCap and Cook Inlet Housing with this question for people living in units they manage; we are awaiting a response. Figuring out what happens on a wider level will take even more time. Fortunately, for most people rent and payments aren’t due until around first of the month.
Q. My probation or parole requires me to attend AA meetings, but attending AA meetings is contrary to social distancing?
A. For the immediate term, reach out to your probation or parole officer by phone to address your individual situation. My office has contacted Department of Corrections leadership to flag this as an issue that needs to be addressed. We are awaiting a response.
Q. The US House of Representatives passed a bi-partisan bill to provide relief for coronavirus, including paid sick leave. How will I get that money?
A. The bill still has to get through the US Senate and be signed into law by the President, so we don’t yet know details, or even if the bill will pass, or in what form.
Note that many newspapers have taken down their paywalls for coronavirus-related reporting to make it easier for us to all follow rapidly changing news.
Upcoming Community Council Meetings
The Airport Heights Community Council March meeting has been cancelled.
We will keep you posted on future meetings.
Until next week,
P.S. Miss your friends because you are home? Kids wanting to have a play date? Check out the new Netflix platform that allows you to host a watch party! Found here: https://www.netflixparty.com/