Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday that he will be extending the 14-day self-quarantine required for anyone traveling into Alaska from out of state to June 2. He said the quarantine mandate will be evaluated every day, and changes could be announced next week.
“We will examine the travel restrictions, we’ll do it on a daily basis," Dunleavy said during a briefing Friday evening. "We’ll look at the cases. As we go into next week, we will talk more about that because if things are looking good, there will be a decision point on the travel coming in from outside the state.”
On Monday, Dunleavy said he would be making a decision on the quarantine this week, and his announcement came after the mayors of Anchorage and Juneau called on him to extend it.
“I’ve encouraged the governor to continue with the quarantine for a while, but it’s really a decision he has to make,” Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said during a community briefing Friday afternoon.
Dunleavy said tourism-related businesses around the state are discussing how they can operate safely. The next two weeks gives the state time to evaluate the impact of opening up businesses before he decides whether to lift travel restrictions.
“What is the best way to ensure safety, but also get tourism back up and going?” Dunleavy said.
Berkowitz said he pushed the governor to extend the quarantine mandate via phone, in person and in the media.
On Thursday, Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon sent a letter to Dunleavy also asking that the mandate be extended.
“The community and the Assembly remain concerned about the prospect of lifting the interstate travel restrictions,” Weldon wrote. “In part because Juneau, along with other towns in Southeast, have limited entry through airport, ferry, and private boat, the virus spread will likely be through increased travel into our community this summer.”
Anchorage, likewise, could see an increase in cases from travel, as it holds the state’s busiest airport.
Alaska has one of the lowest coronavirus case rates in the nation. The travel quarantine mandate is believed to be a critical tool in keeping Alaska rates from spiking.
“Even as we are easing up on the restrictions that we put in place to safeguard public health, we need to remember that the public health threat is very real, that the virus is still out there, that the disease is afflicting hundreds of thousands of Americans as we speak,” Berkowitz said. “If we open ourselves too rapidly, make ourselves too vulnerable, it can have a dramatic impact here.”
During Friday’s community briefing, Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said as long as the state is seeing travel-related cases of the coronavirus, the quarantine mandate should remain in place.
Berkowitz said there should also be airport screening to check travelers for symptoms.
“It would be of great comfort if the disease levels were a lot less in the Lower 48, and in places that are coming to Alaska, than they are right now,” Berkowitz said.
However, such a policy takes an economic toll. If travelers have to self-quarantine for two weeks upon entering the state, they likely will stay home, impacting Alaska businesses that rely on tourist dollars.
While the quarantine is in place through an emergency mandate, compliance is essentially voluntary as the state does not aggressively enforce the rule.
But Berkowitz said that system has worked.
“People will do the right thing, and that is by far the overwhelming response,” he said.
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