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Governor announces all nonresidents will have to arrive in Alaska with negative COVID-19 tests

Screening station for air travelers entering Alaska at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday that all visitors to Alaska will soon have to present a negative result on a COVID-19 test performed within 72 hours prior to arrival.

The new policy goes into effect on Aug. 11.

It marks a shift from the current policy, which allows visitors to test before they depart for Alaska or once they arrive in the state, or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Many visitors have complained it was impossible to get test results back in such a short time before heading to Alaska.

Now the state will only accept negative results from tests taken ahead of time and visitors won’t have a two-week quarantine as an option, Dunleavy said at a briefing Tuesday evening.

Asked about what happens to travelers from out of state who land in Alaska without a negative test, Dunleavy said the state is working through enforcement issues, and those measures will be announced at a later date. Alaskans returning from out of state will still be able to be tested upon arrival at the airport, Dunleavy said.

The state wants to conserve limited testing resources to address a rise in cases within local communities, Dunleavy said.

“We’re not trying to make it difficult for people to come here, we just want to make sure we are taking care of Alaskans first,” he said.

Nationwide shortages of testing reagents used to detect the virus are part of the concern.

“Last week, the state did run out of the reagents,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said at the briefing, adding that many rural communities have also recently experienced significant shortages in supplies.

Dunleavy said the travel policy changes reflect a changing testing landscape.

“When the cases were lower than they are today, you had less of a restriction on supplies of testing materials and things like PPE,” he said.

The state’s rising case counts are putting pressure on testing resources as the state sees clusters of new cases including in vulnerable rural areas.

Travelers are also unknowingly bringing additional COVID-19 cases to the state, Dunleavy said. “We don’t need more virus added to the mix.”

Alaska is experiencing “multiple outbreaks involving multiple communities,” said Zink, who added that the outbreaks “appear hard to contain.”

The state is seeing outbreaks in communities along the Railbelt — the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Fairbanks — as well as those involving seafood processing companies that employ people who move between work and the community at large. Indoor gatherings are also an exposure source, officials say.

“Travel does not appear to be the main driver, but it does appear to be a factor,” Zink said.

Dunleavy on Tuesday also announced a new framework for local communities to implement specific policies to respond to coronavirus infections. The system groups communities by alert level, starting with red, based on what restrictions are in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Anchorage and Interior communities outside of Fairbanks ranked in the “red” level. Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kenai and Juneau ranked orange.

Communities in the red alert level include those that have implemented mandatory masks or face coverings “when six feet of distance can’t be maintained,” limits on indoor gatherings of 50 people or more and capacity limits on most indoor businesses.

Communities in the “orange,” or moderate, alert category followed similar social distancing and masking requirements, enact capacity limits on some businesses and limit indoor gatherings of 100 or more people, according to the presentation.

Communities in the “yellow” alert category would have the fewest restrictions, but officials still encouraged social distancing, mask wearing and limits on indoor gatherings.

Dunleavy said this more targeted approach to containing the virus is preferable to imposing any new statewide mandates on communities with varying levels of community spread, adding that he supported local restrictions in places like Anchorage that are seeing surges in virus cases.

“I think it’s really important that these conversations happen at a local level,” he said. “This roadmap is going to help communities understand where they’re at.”

Officials at the briefing continued to urge Alaskans and visitors to wear masks in public and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from non-household members.

“If we can stay away from each other, 6 feet or more,” Dunleavy said, “this virus has a hard time jumping from one person to another.”

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