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Clearing up the myths about COVID-19 in Alaska

  • Author: Stephen Tower
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 30
  • Published May 28

Patient samples arrive to the Alaska State Public Health Laboratory in Anchorage in transport vials like this to be tested for the coronavirus. Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

There are myths circulating about the COVID-19 pandemic, questioning the need for measures to decrease further spread of an illness that has already killed more than 100,000 Americans.

Myth: Quarantines and partial shutdown of the economy are ineffective in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Fact: Alaska instituted measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19, such as shutting down nonessential businesses, closing schools and limiting travel. Other states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and Iowa, did not institute such measures. As of May 21, compared to Alaska, these five states had a population-weighted average of five times the rate of COVID-19 infections and five times the rate of COVID-19-related deaths. Alaska has completed 5,000 tests per 100,000 people, with 55 positive tests and 1.4 deaths per 100,000. The actual number of deaths is 10. The equivalent numbers for North Dakota are 7,600 tests, 262 positives, and 6 deaths per 100,000; for South Dakota, 3,400 tests, 464 positives, and 5.2 deaths per 100,000; for Nebraska, 3,600 tests, 550 positives, and 6.5 deaths per 100,000; for Arkansas, 2,500 tests, 130 positives, and 2.7 deaths per 100,000; and for Iowa 3,400 tests, 480 positives, and 11.6 deaths per 100,000. Alaska’s low number of positive cases and deaths can be attributed to proactive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Myth: States do not have the right to impose quarantines or business restrictions in a pandemic.

Fact: Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting to the states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government, the states have the authority to take actions in public health emergencies, such as instituting quarantines and restricting business activities.

Myth: Alaska should achieve herd immunity to COVID-19.

Fact: Herd immunity describes a population in which enough people have immunity to a disease to prevent further spread. Usually, herd immunity is achieved by vaccination, which prevents additional cases and deaths. Without a vaccine, about 70% of Alaskans — more than 500,000 of us — would have to become infected to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19, and more than 15,000 Alaskans would die.

Herd immunity is not a rational strategy for a potentially lethal illness such as COVID-19.

We salute Dr. Anne Zink and her colleagues for guiding Alaska through the pandemic. We support a careful reopening, with continued social distancing and resuming some restrictions, if necessary.

Stephen Tower, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery, is an affiliated professor at Alaska’s Medical School. Ken Zafren, M.D., Emergency Medicine, is a Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at Stanford. This op-ed is co-signed by Bruce Chandler, M.D.; Jay Butler, M.D.; Cathy Giessel, RN, ANP; Julie Taylor, RN; Michael Levy, M.D.; and approximately 100 other medical providers, students and educators.

Cosigners: Angela Alfaro MD, Sandi Angevine MD, Shadi Battah MD, Judith Bautista MD, Toni Biskup MD MPH, Sean Davis DDS,Susan Beesley MD, Kira Bendixen DO, Anna Bereziewicz DO, Lisbeth Berge MD, Bradford Gessner MD MPH, Mary Blenkush MD,Jeff Brand MD, Gina Brown MD, Michael Brubaker MS EM, Leslie Bryant MD, Jay Butler MD (CAPT, USPHS, RET) DDID CDC, Rima Butler MD, Gina Carpenter RN PHN, Leeanne Carrothers PT PhD, Justin Carricaburu MD, Tonya L Caylor MD,Bruce Chandler MD, Stephanie Chen MD, Ellen Chirichella MD, Christina Cho BS, James Christiansen MD, Candy Clawson MD, Marion Clement ND, Dante Conley MD, BJ Coopes MD, Paul Craig PhD ABPP-CN, John Cullen MD, Toby Currin DO,Annette D’Armata ND, Christina Darby MD, Mary Demers DO PM OM, Susie Dietz MD, Sara Doaty MD, Karen Duchow RN,Daron Dykema MD, Valerie Edwards MD, Ben Ekstrom MD, Mary Ann Foland MD, Elizabeth Funk MD MPH,Elizabeth Galloway MD, Monica Gaupp MD, Bradford Gessner MD MPH, Allison Gibbs MD, Cathy Giessel RN APRN,Deborah Gillespie ND, Casey Gokey MD, Leslie Gonsette MD, Marin Granholm MD, Gretchen Jones DO, Adam Grove ND,Susan Hayner MD, Jane Heisel MD, Bonnie Hemry MD, Susan Heverling MD, Marianne von Hippel MD, Corina Hopkins-Vacca MD, Morris Horning MD, Andrew Hoyer MD, Mary Ann Jacob MD, Summer Jager MD, Kristina James MD, Laura Jones MD, Emily Kane ND, Phyllis Kiehl MD, Jeffrey Kim MD, Ron Kim MD, Johnna Koh MD, Liz Kohn MD, Thomas Kamer MD, Tamara Krimm MD, Val Krozel MD, Aaron Kusano MD, John Lapkass MD, Anthony Larson MD, Jeanette Legenza MD, Corrine Leistikow MD, Birgit Lenger ND, Rachel Lescher MD, Jenny Lessner MD, Laura Levoy MD, Michael Levy MD, Lisa Lindquist MD, Luke Liu MD, Nell Loften MD, James Lord MD, Lily Lou MD, Bill Mackreth MD, Lucinda MacNeal MD, Maria Mandich MD, Byron McCord MD, Kathy McCue MD, Michelle McCall MD, Laura Merriman MD, Janine Miller MD, Trin Minton MD, Jake Miss MD, Laurie Montano MD, Laura Moore MD, Catherine Morrison MD MPH, Madeleine Morrison ND, Michael Mraz MD, Sarah Murphy MD, Victoria Murdock MD,Jerry Nasenbeny MD, Stacy Neider MD, Declan Nolan MD, Holly Novak MD, Susannah Ølnes MD, Emily Olsen MD, Jessica Panko MD, Anthony Paris PhD E, Madu Parsad MD, Nathan Peimann MD, Tiffany Peterson MD, Antonio Pharameswaran DMD,Elizabeth Pietralczyk MD, Barb Piromalli DO, Jack Pomerantz MD, Melinda Rathkoph MD, Charles Ryan MD,Katy Sackett MD, Rachel Samuelson MD, Marilyn Sandford MD, Laura Schulz MD, Parin Seakit DO, Janet Shen MD PhD,Juliana Shields MD,Sam Shirk MD, Mackenzie Slater MD, Tracy Slager DO, Jess Sotelo MD, Megan Soulé MD, Kathy Stepien MD, Claire Stoltz MD, George Stransky MD, John Tappel MD, Julie Taylor RN MBA MSN, Kelsey Terland MD, Michelle Thomas MD, Kathleen Todd MD,Therese Tomasoski MD, Tina Tomsen MD, Jodie Totten MD, Mary Totten MD, Ailinh Tran MD, Sarah Troxel MD,Dwayne Trujillo MD, Brent Ursel PA, Thomas Vasileff MD, Natalie Ward MD, Candace Watts MD, Anne White MD, Julie Wilson MD,Pamela S Williams DO, Jennifer Wooley MD, Thad Woodard MD, Dan Young ND

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