Alaska is in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. The COVID-19 global pandemic is one of the most historic events in our lifetime. The United States now has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than anywhere else on earth and the number of cases is nearly doubling every other day. This virus can make anyone sick but it especially prays on older adults, those who have underlying health issues, and is highly contagious even if you are not showing symptoms.
In the past several days, I have heard from many who are worried about both the short and long-term impact that this pandemic will bring to their families and our community.
COVID-19 has also devastated our state and global economy. Oil has crashed, the cruise ship season has been postponed indefinitely, the stock market is down, and tens of thousands of Alaskans became unemployed in the blink of an eye. To partially help with these economic consequences, my colleagues and I have passed critical legislation to help Alaskans weather this storm, including expanded unemployment insurance benefits, protection for Alaskans who can't pay their bills, and help for small local businesses.
Alaska confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday April 1st.
Governor's Health Mandates
As an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 the Governor and Chief Medical Officer made the decision to close many of our state's businesses and mandate quarantine for anyone traveling into Alaska. In addition to these mandates the Municipality of Anchorage has issued a "Hunker Down" order in an effort to prevent Anchorage hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and unable to treat those who might need urgent medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a summary of the current health mandates issued by the State of Alaska:
(March 13) Suspend public visitation to the following state institutions:
- Department of Corrections Facilities
- Juvenile Justice Facilities
- Alaska Military Youth Academy
- Alaska Psychiatric Institute
- Alaska Pioneer Homes( Limited Visitation)
(March 16) Closure of all state operated libraries & museums.
(March 17) Statewide closure of bars, breweries, restaurants, food trucks and other food service businesses, except for takeout and deliveries.
(March 19) Doctors are required to postpone or cancel all non-urgent or elective procedures for three months. Elective dental care procedures are required to be postponed for a period of one month.
(March 20) All public and private schools are closed to students through May 1st, 2020.
(March 23) All businesses in the state where individuals may come within six feet of each other must stop operations. This includes:
- Hair salons/barber shops
- Day spas/tanning facilities
- Tattoo/body piercing shops
Additionally, no gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted.
(March 23) Anyone traveling into Alaska must quarantine for 14 days.
(March 28) Everyone in Alaska must stay home unless they are considered essential (shopping for essential household items and going out for essential travel is permitted).
Mandate 12: (March 28) All in-state travel between communities is prohibited except for essential personnel. New or Updated Health Mandates can be found online HERE
COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by a recently discovered strain of coronavirus called "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" or SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some people have also reported aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. Many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. Even if you don't have symptoms you can still spread COVID-19.
- Fever (100.4 F or higher)
- Sore Throat
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
- Kidney Failure
The incubation period is the time between a person's exposure to an infection and the appearance of the first symptoms. COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days, which makes it harder for healthcare professionals to track where a person has been in that time. By comparison, the seasonal flu typically has an incubation period of 1-4 days.
Flattening The Curve
One of the big uncertainties in the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska and the United States now is how far it will spread and how fast. Officials believe that up to 60% of the population can end up with COVID-19, with 20% requiring hospitalization.
What medical professionals fear most is the health care system becoming overwhelmed by a sudden explosion of illness that requires more people to be hospitalized than there are beds and ventilators to meet the need. Experts believe that this can be averted with protective measures like you have seen with the closure of schools, bars and restaurants, and other businesses deemed non-essential. Other ways to "flatten the curve'' are social distancing, working from home, and postponing travel.
Flattening the curve means that all the social distancing measures now being deployed are about preventing illness and also slowing down the rate at which people get sick until treatment and a vaccine are developed.
By reducing the strain on our healthcare system we give those that become hospitalized by COVID-19 a better chance of surviving.
When Should You Seek Medical Care?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that you should seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms.
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Please call your primary care provider or emergency room before arriving if at all possible. If available, put on a facemask before you enter the building. If you can't put on a facemask, cover your coughs and sneezes. It is best to sneeze or cough into a tissue then throw the tissue away. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. This will help protect the people in the office or waiting room.
COVID-19 Testing Results Waiting Period
Many neighbors have asked me how long testing for COVID-19 will take. The Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS) informed me that the state medical lab can process a test within 4-6 hours. However that does not mean you would receive results within that time period. The state can only process so many tests at a time so it could take longer for people to receive their results. Some health care providers are using private labs to test for COVID-19 and those tests can take 5-7 days for a person to receive test results. If you do not get a call with your test results within a few days it could mean a few different things. DHSS reports that some providers are not calling people back if they have tested negative for COVID-19, or sometimes it is taking longer than the average time to receive your results. If you are concerned about your results call your healthcare provider and ask for an update.
Providers at this time are typically only testing those showing symptoms or those who have known exposure to COVID-19. It is very important that you isolate yourself from others while waiting for
COVID-19 Relief Legislation
The legislature passed Senate Bill 241 which will assist Alaskans in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic by:
$75 million for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to bolster emergency medical and trauma systems.
$5 million to the Disaster Relief Fund to be used by the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs to help with the public health disaster response.
$5 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to alleviate COVID-19-related homelessness.
$2.7 million for public health services provided by the Municipality of Anchorage.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
As of March 21st, the number of Alaskans filing for unemployment benefits rose to 13,774 the highest amount in the history of the state. The Legislature passed House Bill 308 which provides emergency relief to people who are unemployed due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families and small businesses face economic devastation as a result of a collapsing economy. Relief cannot wait.
This bill waives the standard one week waiting requirement to begin receiving unemployment insurance benefits.
HB 308 also increases the weekly benefit from $25 to $75 per week for each dependent of a person receiving unemployment providing some relief for families who have lost childcare and income simultaneously.
If you have become unemployed or are working less than full-time hours you should apply for unemployment insurance benefits as soon as possible. Contact Alaska's Unemployment Insurance Division at (907) 269-4700. You can also apply online at www.Labor.Alaska.gov/unemployment
In addition to the state increasing unemployment insurance benefits the federal government also increased benefits by extending the coverage period for unemployment insurance from three to fourth months and providing an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits. This $600 a week would be in addition to existing state and federal unemployment benefits.
I wanted to make sure you and your family had the best information possible to help through this trying time. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. I can be reached at (907) 465-2435 or [email protected]