In a video message announced via the state’s emergency text alert system at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy urged Alaskans to practice more stringent measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 during the next three weeks.
“Like the rest of the nation, Alaska’s COVID-19 status is now in the red,” Dunleavy said at the beginning of the message. “That means COVID-19 is rapidly spreading through our communities. Our health care workers, first responders and service members are being infected at unprecedented rates.”
Alaska as a whole has been at a “red” status, which corresponds to a high level of risk, since mid-September. As of Thursday evening, every region of the state was at a high risk level, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. A region is considered to be at a high risk level when an average of 10 or more new COVID-19 cases are detected per 100,000 state residents during a rolling 14-day timespan.
With a new disaster declaration taking effect for 30 days on Monday, Dunleavy said he has “directed” state employees to work from their homes whenever possible. He also announced that masks are mandatory in state buildings, along with social distancing wherever possible.
In addition, the governor urged businesses to utilize remote working or mitigation measures.
Dunleavy also said that if a person is unable to stay six or more feet from others, a mask should be worn in “every and any setting.”
“I must stress that the next three weeks are critical,” Dunleavy said. “Starting today through the end of November, I’m going to ask Alaskans to sacrifice a little more.”
“If we’re going to keep our hospitals running and businesses open, all Alaskans must return to the same mindset that worked so well this past spring,” he said.
Dunleavy said that by taking these measures for the next three weeks, it provides time for critical infrastructure workers, including military members and health care professionals, to recover from infections that have reached “untenable” levels among those groups before discussion of potential vaccine distribution moves forward.
Following Dunleavy’s emergency announcement, the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center released a statement detailing Ketchikan’s current COVID-19 situation and the community’s response to the governor’s message.
According to the EOC, Ketchikan’s current position at community Risk Level 3 (High) is “substantially similar” to the state’s position at Alert Level 3 (High).
The EOC release listed recommended mitigation techniques such as closing bars, limiting the capacity of personal services, limiting the number of attendees at community gatherings and ceasing non-essential visits to congregate settings like the Ketchikan Correctional Center or the Ketchikan Pioneer Home.
These guidelines have been recommended mitigation measures since Ketchikan shifted to Risk Level 3 (High) on Nov. 4.
In effort to bring the Level 3 mitigation efforts “more closely in line with the state’s,” the EOC on Thursday added another recommendation to Level 3 safety guidelines.
“In light of the Governor’s announcement, we are strongly recommending that any Ketchikan businesses, organizations, and local governments that can operate remotely are urged to send their employees home as soon as possible,” stated the EOC release.
The EOC press release also provided details about how decisions are made regarding the community risk level and other emergency policies.
“The Ketchikan EOC operates under the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) and includes a coordinated multi-agency response with members from local municipal governments, health care providers, and other local, state and federal agencies,” according to the statement.
"The Ketchikan EOC used many resources in the establishment and maintenance of the Community Risk Matrix, including: the governor’s mandates and recommendations, State of Alaska DHSS leaders, including recommendations of Dr. Anne Zink; the guidance and standards of the State of Alaska EOC; and the national CDC standards,” the statement continued.
The EOC’s Unified Command works with its policy group to examine potential policies or changes to existing policies. The Unified Command includes EOC Emergency Manager Abner Hoage and Alaska Public Health Nurse IV Theresa Ruzek.
Before a policy can be decided upon by Unified Command, it is reviewed by the EOC policy group. The group includes Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Rodney Dial, City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen, City of Saxman Mayor Frank Seludo, Ketchikan School District Superintendent Beth Lougee and several local managers, assistant managers and attorneys.
“Ketchikan’s risk matrix is specific to the needs of the community and responds to the unique characteristics of Ketchikan,” the EOC statement read. “While the federal and state mandates and recommendations are used to develop local standards, the input of local health care professionals and community leaders is critical for making recommendations for Ketchikan’s residents. With this input and the concurrence of the members of the policy group, the Community Risk Level is determined.”
Also responding to Dunleavy’s video announcement, the City of Craig announced on Thursday that a variety of city facilities will be closed for in-person service effective Friday through Dec. 4.
According to a City of Craig press release, “most facilities” will still be staffed during this time period, and services will be available telephonically or via in-person appointments.
The facilities closed to the public until Dec. 4 include the Craig City Hall, Craig Harbormaster’s Office, Craig Public Works and Parks and Facilities office, Craig Aquatic Center and fitness room, Craig Gym and Recreation Center, Craig Public Library and the Craig EMS office.
The Craig Department of Motor Vehicles will operate by appointment only.
Masks and social distancing are now mandatory inside city facilities, according to the city’s press release.