We have all heard varying arguments and approaches about how to handle the surge in COVID-19 infections; unfortunately for Alaskans, the discussion has turned into an “us-versus-them” situation. If you listen to the rhetoric, it appears our state faces a stark choice: either save the economy by returning to “normal” as soon as possible, or shut everything down until the COVID-19 case count drops to zero.
This is a false choice. In reality, we must meet in the middle to get through this particularly brutal phase of the pandemic.
Like all Alaskans, the members we represent are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue. On the health care side, our system is stressed. Every single day now, we have close to 150 Alaskans in the hospital with COVID-19. Our health care workers are exhausted, and staffing shortages are emerging around the state as caregivers get exposed to COVID-19 in their communities. Rural facilities are overwhelmed, and our elders continue to be isolated in long-term care facilities as the virus runs rampant throughout the state. Alaska’s health care system cannot sustain this pressure.
On the business side, the situation is equally grim. Small businesses are struggling just to keep their doors open. Many have already closed or are on the brink of shutting down. Each new day of rising case counts brings increased uncertainty to the business community, and new mandates apply even more pressure to an already fragile economy. Thousands of Alaskans are out of work and unable to pay for basic needs like food and rent. Our economy is in serious trouble, and we need Alaskans to start working and spending money again.
Given the pressing needs of our health care system and our business community, how do we fix it? First and foremost, Alaskans must work together, not fight each other. There is one enemy in this story, and it’s the virus. We can fight the enemy together, or we can fall separately.
The good news is that light can be found at the end of the tunnel if we stand united. If the health care system fails, businesses will fail, and the economy will crash. We are linked together and equally invested in working toward the best outcome.
Alaskans already know what to do, and we implore everyone to take this seriously: Wear a mask in public. Avoid meeting or mixing with others outside of your household as much as you can. Stay at least six feet away from people as much as possible. Avoid crowds. Wash your hands frequently. Work from home if you can. Embrace curbside pickup. And now, more than ever, shop local.
The short-term goal is not to push COVID-19 infection rates down to zero, but to reduce the strain on our health care system, get our schools open, and allow businesses to operate safely and responsibly.
At this point, it is truly up to the people of Alaska to take matters into their own hands and make smaller, short-term sacrifices to turn the COVID-19 trend around. If we fail, it is a sad reality that more serious measures will likely be required, an outcome no one wants.
Join us in our quest to turn the page on the false narrative that our response to COVID-19 is an either/or situation. If we make a concerted effort now, we can avoid greater problems in the critical weeks and months ahead. We know Alaskans are up to the task.
Kati Capozzi is the President and CEO of the Alaska Chamber. The Chamber represents small and large businesses across the state with a mission to promote a healthy business environment in Alaska. Jared C. Kosin is the President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNA). ASHNA represents more than 65 hospitals, nursing homes and health care organizations from communities across Alaska that employ thousands of Alaskans.
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