The numbers are encouraging for Alaska — and Ketchikan in particular.
As of Thursday, Ketchikan had not seen a positive test result for COVID-19 since April 20.
And, from April 20 through May 20, the State of Alaska had recorded just 81 Alaska cases statewide, an average of 2.61 per day. No state in the country has a lower overall total than Alaska’s count of 402 cases. And of those 402 individuals, 356 are listed as having recovered.
It’s numbers like these that have encouraged Gov. Mike Dunleavy to lift COVID-19 related state restrictions on businesses, houses of worship, libraries, museums, and recreation and sports activities beginning Friday.
The action seems appropriate, especially in areas of the state such as Ketchikan where increased testing has produced no new positive results in more than four weeks. The risks remain, but they are low at present.
It’s important to understand some of the factors that have reduced the risks here.
In Ketchikan, the early cases were identified quickly. State and local actions closed local schools, municipal facilities and a lot of businesses. Many residents have been conscientious in taking measures to reduce the spread and “flatten the curve.”
Also, Ketchikan, as an island community, likely benefited from being mostly sealed off from the outside world because of significantly reduced air travel and the absence of mainline ferry transportation.
Alaska, too, has had a similar “island effect” because of its geography and mandates regarding intrastate and interstate travel.
This relative absence of travel has reduced the opportunities for COVID-19 to hitch new rides into Alaska.
However, Alaska and Ketchikan aren’t truly open for business without the travel that has brought so much fresh revenue into the state and community.
That’s where the difficult decisions come in.
Understanding the economic importance of commercial fishing in Alaska, the industry is working with the state and local communities to develop plans to reduce the risks of fishery participants bringing COVID-19 into the state. We’ve seen the results of some of those plans in recent days as testing programs have detected COVID-19 cases early while the individuals were still in the initial quarantine periods.
It’s good to see the state and industry taking this seriously, understanding that an outbreak could result in closed fisheries, closed processing plants, and the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska communities — some of which don’t have the health care capacity to fully respond. There are a lot of participants in the fisheries, and that’s a lot of people to trust to take responsibility to protect themselves, their workmates and the areas in which they operate.
The cruise industry, too, presents an array of complex issues when considering the protection of crews, passengers, and the residents of port communities and beyond. How best to proceed?
Regarding air travel, the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving in Alaska from Outside remains in effect through June 2. The requirement certainly has dampened the demand for visitor-related travel into the state. If the mandate is changed on June 2, it will be interesting to see whether it’s fully rescinded or will continue with lesser requirements.
As Dunleavy correctly notes, COVID-19 isn’t going away and there’s no vaccine or cure likely in the near future. The state shut things down early and hard to give time to build up health care capacity, which has occurred. As things open back up, more cases are anticipated. The governor says the state will be vigilant in responding to “spikes” in cases, but “the virus is with us. We must function with it and manage it.”
That’s going to take a lot of people being responsible for their actions, not only the actions that affect themselves but those that might affect others. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s the best hope we have for maintaining health in the community, and restoring strength to the economy.