Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, like most other governors across the United States, has asked state citizens to conduct themselves in ways that will help Alaska avoid an exponential increase of COVID-19.
The mandates have been extraordinary. The travel restrictions, quarantines, business and public facility closures, and reductions in the types of health care services available would have been unthinkable not long ago. But most Alaskans have complied, giving Alaska one of the best records to date against the novel coronavirus.
Now the governor and his staff have begun the difficult task of reopening the state’s economy while guarding against rapid increases in COVID-19. It’s not going to happen overnight, and the process is likely to test Alaskans in many ways.
In the days ahead, the governor would be prudent to continue the conversation he started with Alaskans as the pandemic got underway.
Starting during his campaign, Dunleavy had developed a reputation for not engaging with Alaskans. The skipping of some campaign debates was followed by a failure to conduct actual town hall meetings in the aftermath of his budget bombshell of early 2019, instead attending mostly events sponsored by a particular political group. It’s worth noting locally that, despite traveling Outside regularly, Dunleavy has not participated in a public event in Ketchikan for more than a year now.
But after the cornonavirus pandemic arrived, Dunleavy and key members of his administration began conducting regular press conferences to update the public on the latest numbers and administration actions — and take questions from members of the statewide media.
From the outset, Dunleavy, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, and other state commissioners and officials clearly have sought to present the information as best they could and as thoroughly as possible. There’s substantial time available for media questions — and If an answer is not available that day, it’s been provided during the next press conference.
Much credit for the value of these regular events has to go to Dr. Zink, whose articulate blend of intellect, energy and empathy has provided Alaskans with a clear understanding of the disease and generated confidence in the state’s strategies for handling the situation and moving forward. To his great credit, Dunleavy has made good use of the expertise that Alaska is fortunate to have.
In our view, the regular press conferences — the talking directly to Alaskans, providing the administration’s perception of the current situation and explaining the rationale for the administration’s actions — have been extraordinarily helpful. It’s a refreshing dose of transparency that has helped Alaskans respond to the arrival of COVID-19.
The next steps in reopening the economy while the coronavirus remains at large promise to be more difficult. Consensus will be harder to come by; the politics more complex and strident.
It might seem easier to forego the regular appearances and avoid the difficult conversations ahead. But Dunleavy and his team have built a strong foundation of general public trust by being transparent, presenting the available information and responding to questions. The governor, his administration and all Alaskans would be well served by continuing this discussion.