Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday that he plans to issue another 30-day COVID-19 public health disaster emergency declaration that goes into effect on Wednesday.
The current declaration, which Dunleavy issued in mid-November, expires Tuesday. Local governments and the state’s hospitals had urged him to extend a declaration originally authorized in March, when the pandemic surfaced here.
The declarations help streamline various bureaucratic processes and provide legal authority for health mandates, in addition to facilitating waivers for delivering health care such as telemedicine, expedited licensing for providers and approval to treat patients at alternative care sites like Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.
“While the first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in Alaska any day now, the threat posed by the virus is still with us,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel — but the next 30 days are crucial to advance therapeutic treatments and the vaccination plan so we can defeat this virus and begin returning to normal.”
The governor’s office plans to formally issue the declaration by Monday.
It’s been just under a month since Dunleavy declared the current emergency. In that time, Alaska’s COVID-19 cases have more than doubled from 17,000 to nearly 38,000. At that time, 84 Alaskans had died with the virus. Now 154 have.
Those numbers are only expected to increase as the state’s hospitals grapple with significant staffing shortages among medical workers who test positive for the virus or come into contact with those who do.
Alaska hospitals aren’t talking about rationing ICU care the way New Mexico is, but they are dealing with high patient numbers amid significant staffing issues, according to Jared Kosin, head of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. Hospital administrators are preparing plans in case a major surge in cases leads to a “New Mexico-type situation,” he said.
Alaska’s staffing shortages are particularly acute given the challenge of recruiting temporary traveling nurses to such a remote place in winter.
“It’s no better today than it has been. It’s not significantly worse. It is very much just a pressure-packed situation that everyone is actively managing through to the best of their ability,” Kosin said Thursday. “So far, we’re making it work. But this is not sustainable long term.”