Lifting health mandates could lead to virus ‘rebound’

Health experts warn of virus uptick

A quick return to business as usual could cause a significant uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases if not done properly, modeling from the University of Alaska Anchorage shows.

After months of shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, a sudden return to normal could lead to a large spike in cases as people come into contact with those who may still be contagious, according to the UAA College of Health, Division of Population Health Sciences and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies.

That report modeled multiple possible outcomes based on different mitigation strategies such as a full lockdown, like in Italy, or a shelter-in-place order like in Alaska. But if Alaska’s health mandates were to be lifted all at once and without further mitigation strategies, that could cause the virus to spread again.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a press conference Monday that his administration would begin this week to look at ways to open “sectors” of Alaska’s economy. Dunleavy said the decisions would be data-driven and further discussion about what they may look like will happen during future evening press conferences.

The model’s shelter in place scenario “predicts very few cases while the response is in place, but shows a rebound in hospitalizations far exceeding capacity within a month after the mandate is removed, with no further measures put in place,” the report says.

With the current social distancing mandates in place and Alaskans doing a fairly good job at following them, Dr. Thomas Hennessy, director of the Arctic Investigations Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the number of cases of COVID-19 in the state should stay low.

The problem comes when those restrictions are lifted and people start going back to work, Hennessy said in an interview.

“Once we go back to normal mixing in our society those transmissions are going to increase,” Hennessy said. “We’re going to jump right back on the epidemic transmission train.”

Instead, policies should be lifted gradually and their effects studied, Hennessy said.

Dunleavy isn’t the only executive considering an approach toward normalcy. Governors across the country are starting to look at how and when they might try and resume business in their states, the New York Times reported, but there’s no indication when that might be.

According to the Times, President Trump said in a press conference Monday he had the authority to instruct governors when to reopen their states.

“When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump said.

While modeling is a useful tool, Hennessy warned against over-relying on their data.

“Every one of them is wrong in some way,” Hennessy said of various prediction models. “There’s a lot we don’t know. I look at all of these skeptically.”

Hennessy urged patience in lifting health mandates and said other countries’ experiences can serve as a guide.

“China’s three months ahead of us on this, we’re going to see what happens there,” Hennessy said. “We can use those experiences to make judgments for our own society.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

Information on the coronavirus is available from websites for the City and Borough of Juneau, the State of Alaska at coronavirus.alaska.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with flu-like symptoms are encouraged to contact their health care provider.

More in News

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wendesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
State COVID officials brief Soldotna City Council in work session

The council was joined by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and State Testing Coordinator Dr. Coleman Cutchins

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports more than 4,000 cases this week, 357 on peninsula

The state reported 462 new COVID-19 cases on Friday

Seward junior Lydia Jacoby swims in August 2019 at the Speedo Junior National Championships in Stanford, California. (Photo by Jack Spitser)
Improving through challenging times

Seward junior swimmer Jacoby wins national title at U.S. Open

Kenai Peninsula Borough Superintendent John O’Brien (courtesy photo)
Community input requested in superintendent search

The survey will be open until Dec. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Food Bank
Kenai Peninsula Food Banks staff and volunteers assemble food bags for the cities of Kenai and Soldotna recently at the food bank, near Soldotna.
Food Bank keeps setting records

The food bank distributed 267,000 pounds of food in October.

photo illustration
Housing relief program deadlines approaching

The deadline for the Soldotna and borough-wide programs is Monday, Nov. 30 at 5 p.m.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
DHSS: 75 new peninsula cases

DHSS reported 505 new cases in Alaska Thursday.

Risk levels
Risk levels: Nov. 19

34 schools are operating 100% remotely until Nov. 25

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce addresses constituents in a YouTube video posted on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Alaska. (Screenshot)
Mayors Pierce and Gabriel respond to COVID-19 in separate videos

Gabriel voiced his concern regarding Central Peninsula Hospital, which reached capacity on Monday.

Most Read