As the state economy is poised to reopen at a limited capacity starting Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration announced that Alaskans can also look forward to more freedom to move about between communities within the state.
Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum announced during a Thursday evening press conference that a few modifications have been made to health mandate 11 on social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to mandate 12, the mandate that prohibits all nonessential travel within the state of Alaska. Dunleavy has said previously that there are exceptions for those traveling to recreate while maintaining social distancing, but now the mandate is being expanded even more.
Alaskans are now allowed to travel between communities that are on the road system, Crum announced. The state is not encouraging visits to more remote communities — Crum said those communities need to be protected.
“Members of the same household, travelling in a passenger vehicle or car, are permitted to travel between communities and generally on the road system for any purpose,” according to “Attachment M” of health mandate 16. “Including but not limited to recreational or sightseeing activities conducted within the mandate guidelines.”
For people who are not members of the same household, the state is allowing them to “jointly engage” in outdoor activities as long as the group does not exceed 20 people, and people from different households stay at least 6 feet away from each other. People engaging together in outdoor activities also “must adhere” to social distancing protocols and “shall refrain from touching each other and from sharing food or drink.”
People traveling are still encouraged to wash hands, keep things clean, and limit contact with vendors for things like supplies and gasoline.
“Cloth face coverings should be used whenever a traveler engages with a third-party vendor,” the attachment reads.
Another modification to the social distancing mandate allows Alaskans to partake in travel for lodging and overnight camping, such as with RV parks, bed and breakfast establishments, hotels and privately owned campgrounds. The protocols spelling out what’s allowed in terms of using those businesses can be read here: https://gov.alaska.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/COVID-MANDATE-016-Attachment-L-Lodging-and-Overnight-Camping.pdf
Dunleavy and Crum addressed fishing charters specifically in another modification to mandate 16 — Attachment J of mandate 16 outlines social distancing rules and capacity limitations for fishing charters operating at this time.
Charter operations must:
• Have passengers bring their own food/drinks to be kept separate from the crew’s
• Not pass equipment to or share it with passengers, including fishing rods
• Keep 6 feet of distance between all individuals, or maintain as much social distancing as can be accomplished on the vessel
• Have all passengers and crew members wear cloth face coverings
• Establish a COVID-19 Mitigation Plan and post it publicly on the vessel. The posted plan has to clearly state that no one with COVID-19 symptoms is allowed to board.
In terms of capacity, charter boats are allowed to take aboard a full load if the people all live under one roof. If the charter guests come from different households, however, the charter has to limit the number of people allowed on board to 25% of the capacity allowed by its license type, Crum said.
The state also announced mandate 17 on Thursday night, which sets out guidelines for independent commercial fishing vessels. These are all “catcher and tender vessels that have not agreed to operate under a fleet-wide plan submitted by a company, association or entity that represents a fleet of vessels,” according to the mandate.
Mandate 17 sets out a list of protective measures and protocols that commercial fishing vessels must follow in order to operate in Alaska waters and ports. They include things like screening all crew members upon arrival, having out-of-state crew members self quarantine for 14 days prior to fishing, and limiting contact with members of the communities where the vessels are fishing. Crew members who don’t live in those communities aren’t allowed to leave the boat unless it’s essential, for example.
The full list of protocols for commercial fishing vessels can be read here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/QgrcJHsTlmBVnShZDtBQtkRbCfGGzlxdvgQ?projector=1&messagePartId=0.1
Vessel captains are required to enact these protective protocols and ensure their crew members adhere to them, according to the mandate. Captains must also sign an acknowledgement form and be able to provide a copy of it to any seafood processing agent or federal, state or local authority figure.
State officials said these protective protocols are the result of working with commercial fishing stakeholders to find solutions for a safe fishing season.
In speaking about these changes and the phased reopening of the economy, Dunleavy said the health of Alaskans will always remain the No. 1 priority.
Some businesses are going to reopen more slowly than others, Dunleavy said. It’s up to business owners to decide when and if they want to reopen based on what’s best for them, he said.
“We’ll adjust across the state if we need to,” Dunleavy said of the potential for clusters or spike of COVID-19 to pop up as the economy reopens. “Certain locales if we need to, certain establishments. But I think most Alaskans, the vast majority of Alaskans, the vast majority of Americans and folks worldwide realize you cannot keep an economy in 2020 turned off and in a coma for an unlimited period of time.”
COVID-19 by the numbers
The Department of Health and Social Services announced two new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the state total up to 337. Those are new cases reported to the state between midnight and 11:59 p.m. on April 22.
Both the new cases are from Anchorage — one is a male child under the age of 10 and the other is a man aged 60-69, DHSS reported.
There have been no additional hospitalizations of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, there are a total 42 people currently being hospitalized for either confirmed cases of the disease, or suspected cases. That number of 42 includes what the state calls “persons under investigation” who have not yet tested positive, but who medical professionals believe likely have the illness.
As of Thursday, 209 Alaskans have recovered from COVID-19, which is the majority of the state’s 337 cases.
On the Kenai Peninsula, 19 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the following communities: Anchor Point (one), Homer (two), Kenai (four), Seward (three), Soldotna (six) and Sterling (three). This includes an Anchor Point resident who died while out of state and a Homer resident who was tested and treated in Anchorage.
The Anchorage municipality has 166 residents who have confirmed positive for COVID-19, which includes four Chugiak residents, eight Eagle River residents and three Girdwood residents. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, 63 Fairbanks residents have tested positive, as well as 15 North Pole residents and one additional resident of an unspecified community within the borough. In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Wasilla has 11 cases and Palmer has nine. In the Southeast, Juneau has 27 cases, Ketchikan has 16, Petersburg has three and Craig has two. Delta Junction, Nome, Bethel, Kodiak and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area each have one case. Communities with fewer than 1,000 residents are included in the total for their borough or census area but not individually reported.
Locally, South Peninsula Hospital had sent 205 total samples off to be tested by Thursday morning, with 183 tests coming back negative and 21 pending.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com.