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Our hospitals are straining. We need a statewide mask mandate — now.

  • Author: Jeff Cook
    | Opinion
  • Updated: December 4, 2020
  • Published December 4, 2020

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In the past two weeks at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, we have taken in three COVID-19 patient transfers from Bethel. Bethel’s hospital is full. Anchorage and Mat-Su hospitals are full and Seattle won’t take Alaska COVID-19 patients. A 55-year-old woman from Bethel was transferred to Fairbanks on Nov. 30; she coded and passed away. No one should die far away from home and loved ones. This has to stop or be slowed down. The statistics on how requiring masks statewide affect COVID-19 are clear-cut. Alaska is one of only 13 states without such a mandate. You can also see the impact by looking at U.S. cities and their rate of positive testing for COVID-19 per 100,000 population. Kauai, Hawaii is the lowest, at 2.6 new cases per 100,000, while South Bend, Indiana is at 106. I believe Fairbanks is in the mid to high 40s, and other areas in Alaska — particularly Southwest Alaska, with rates above 100 daily cases per 100,000 residents — are higher. We were on the island of Kauai for two weeks in March and left March 18, which is when they locked Kauai down. Their masking and other mandates early on and continuing show the good results when COVID-19 is taken seriously. Much of Alaska, including Bethel, is much like an island, where there is limited and distant connectivity to other cities.

Hospital beds and other care sources are limited. I do not understand why our governor has not issued a statewide masking mandate. He is wasting everyone’s time and money arguing with boroughs and cities about who has what power. He has the power and should exercise it. The vaccines are several months away in providing significant relief. We need to take actions now to reduce the positivity rate for COVID-19. If we don’t, we will outrun our capacity to care for COVID-19 and other patients in Alaska. We are already there at many Alaska hospitals; Seattle hospitals and likely others in the Lower 48 will not accept our COVID-19 transfers.

It is time — today — for the governor to show some compassionate and wise leadership. Today he needs to issue a statewide masking mandate, at least through the end of the year. The vaccine will not be here quickly enough. He needs to put aside politics or whatever is holding him back. Follow the science and clear-cut evidence.

Jeff Cook is president emeritus of the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation, which owns and operates Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. He and his family live in Fairbanks.

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