Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum announced on Monday that the COVID-19 public health emergency order put in place on April 30, 2021, will be rescinded on July 1.
"The COVID situation has mellowed out to where our systems are in place, our hospitals know how to deal with this, our health care providers have tools they need, because a lot of the treatments are actually commercially available or they're able to order themselves directly," Crum said during the Monday afternoon press conference. "And so, because of that, I am going to officially rescind the public health emergency order granted to me under the authorities of (House Bill) 76, and it's going to be rescinded effective July 1st, 2022."
The public health order had been signed by Crum on April 30, 2021, the same day Gov. Mike Dunleavy ended the state's emergency disaster declaration that had been in effect since March 11, 2020.
The public health order directed the DHSS to take all necessary actions in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, including facilitating cooperation between local health officers, state agencies, tribal health authorities and the Federal Management Administration, according to an April 30, 2021, press release from the governor's office.
At Monday's press conference, Crum had a panel of state officials speaking about the recension of the order. One of those officials was Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, who spoke to the changes in hospitalization.
"The big thing that has changed significantly over time is the number of people requiring hospitalization secondary to COVID-19," Zink said. "So a combination of how many people have been vaccinated, how many people have had COVID-19 in the past, as well as increasing access to therapeutics, means that while we still see people being hospitalized secondary to COVID-19, the overall burden on hospitals has significantly decreased."
"We'll continue with ongoing mitigation efforts, as well as continuing monitoring," continued Zink. "We encourage Alaskans to continue to layer on protection."
DHSS Director of Public Health Heidi Hedberg stated that more authority had been needed to set up a system and modify the system until enough resources and tools were allocated in dealing with the pandemic.
"We all had shortages [of protective equipment, tests and vaccines] over the past two years," said Hedberg. "And right now, through communication and through purchasing, we've been able to have enough of those resources so that Alaskans really can take advantage of those tools."
The recension of the emergency order will eliminate the emergency allotment Supplemental National Assistance Program benefit that has been going out since the start of the pandemic. The emergency allotment benefit adds the maximum amount of money allowable to an individual's SNAP benefit, according to the director of the Division of Public Assistance, Shawnda O'Brien. Qualifying households receive varied amounts based on the size and income of the household.
The emergency benefit will be accessible through the month of August, with August being a "transition month," said O'Brien during the press conference.
With the exception of the change in emergency benefits, the average Alaskan is not expected to be affected by the rescinding of the order, according to one of the officials at the press conference.
During the event, a representative of the Anchorage Daily News asked: "What is changing? So like, for an average Alaskan, could you list some of things that are going away?"
"When we look at this, what’s actually changing for the average Alaskan is nothing,” Crum replied. “Most folks actually probably don't even understand that we still have this in place. It was very specific ... to tools that we needed in order to coordinate, and I think when working behind the scenes of the last year, us and other departments, to make sure that some of those tools as necessary were either made permanent, or that systems were made self-sustainable. So there's really not a change for Alaskans on this."
Monday's announcement comes as Alaska has reported roughly 253,000 cases of COVID-19 since March 2020, according to the DHSS website.
Information regarding COVID-19 treatment, therapeutics and vaccines is available at 907-646-3322, or covidrx.alaska.gov.