These times call for quiet heroism and elemental decency. It is a time to bravely draw on our best selves and our kindest ways. COVID-19 poses a massive public health threat that has cascaded into economic and social disruption of unimagined magnitude. Many will be afflicted, more will endure hardship, and all will be changed. As we confront the pandemic, let’s resolve to stay informed, stay connected and stay safe.
The municipality’s strategy is based on the best medical advice to minimize COVID-19’s impact and to preserve the scarce health care resources available in our community. Our success requires each of us to practice good hygiene, physical distancing, and to maintain calm.
The virus spreads easily from person to person, even before symptoms are present, and experts estimate that it is at least ten times as lethal as the common flu. Left unchecked, models show the virus would quickly make a majority of Anchorage residents sick at the same time, send thousands to the hospital at the same time, and leave our health system unable to provide lifesaving care to many that will need it. We have witnessed this tragedy unfold across the world.
We have seen what the future can look like, as the virus spreads in places like Italy and New York before those jurisdictions directed residents to stay at home. In Anchorage, we hunkered down early, before there were any confirmed “community-spread” cases. That gives us reason for hope. Public health experts point to evidence showing the earlier you act, the more likely it is to prevent a surge of cases that overwhelms treatment capacity. We did not delay.
Hunkering down has given us time to prepare for when the virus hits with full force. We are using every minute of it.
We mobilized the Emergency Operations Center to oversee the municipality’s preparations and response.
We directed businesses to save personal protective equipment and are accepting community donations of gloves and masks. Individuals and businesses are coming forward on their own to fabricate equipment and augment supplies.
We worked with health care partners to expand our “surge capacity,” the number of beds available to treat a sudden influx of patients. We are preparing facilities outside of hospitals as alternative care sites.
We took swift action to reduce the risk to people experiencing homelessness by standing up shelters at the Ben Boeke and Sullivan Arenas, allowing for physical distancing.
We are expanding our ability to trace and track the outbreak. We’re training Anchorage School District nurses to conduct “contact tracing” alongside public health nurses at the Anchorage Health Department, who follow-up with individuals who test positive for the virus in order to trace their contacts and contain the spread.
These times are particularly difficult for businesses that have closed their doors, and for those living paycheck to paycheck. The municipality is postponing taxes, rebating and reducing fees, and has set up an Economic Resilience Task Force to plan for economic stabilization and revitalization. We expect the federal stimulus to bring more than $1 billion into Alaska, much of it directed to individuals and small businesses. The state Legislature passed laws ensuring faster access to unemployment benefits and other relief.
Even with all these preparations, the virus stretches our resources thin and tests us as a community. We are now, more than ever, dependent on one another. We count on each other to stay home as much as possible, to maintain good hygiene and physical distancing. These practices are devastating to the virus, which depends on close contact between people to spread.
I am regularly asked when this will end. I do not have a firm answer because the evidence and science are not yet clear. But the entire world is singularly focused on this virus, and every week brings us closer to better and faster testing, treatment options, and ultimately a vaccine.
We face a situation that compels us to drastically change our lives, physically distance ourselves from those we love, shutter businesses that have taken a lifetime to build. We must draw on our strengths to see us through, on the character and values that define us.
We are closer to the beginning of this than the end, and there are dark days ahead. But the end will come. And when we get there, we will remember that we came together, we cared for each other, and we did the right thing.
Ethan Berkowitz is the Mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage.
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