Adam Crum

Adam Crum

Alaska Voices: Alaskans are experts at social distancing and helping others

Most of us have never heard of anything like this, much less been asked to do it.

  • Monday, March 30, 2020 11:40pm
  • Opinion

These are, to put it mildly, very strange times. Not long ago, most of us were enjoying the last months of our Alaska winter and were looking forward to spring. Our students were starting to look forward to the freedom of summer break and high school seniors were counting the days until graduation. Life was normal — sometimes thrilling, boring or in between — but we knew what to expect most days when we woke up in the morning.

Now, in the space of a few weeks, nothing is normal. Everything has changed. Our lives, it’s fair to say, are upended.

With the new social distancing mandate in Alaska that took effect March 28, plus the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers and severely reduced in-state travel, the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19, a respiratory illness first identified in China in December, has truly come home. We’re all being asked to stay put, at our primary place of residence, and to only leave to get food, medical care or to work if you are part of the essential workforce and cannot telework. Most of us have never heard of anything like this, much less been asked to do it.

As I talk to fellow Alaskans about this new order, I hear confusion. Why are we doing this? Won’t COVID-19 case counts just increase again when the shelter in place order is lifted? And some are skeptical. How will we know if this even works? Are we being asked to put our lives and livelihoods on hold for nothing?

I understand and appreciate these questions. It’s shocking to imagine that we would be asked to stay in our homes for two weeks or possibly longer (the order will be reevaluated by April 11). But I must assure you, this order comes only after the best medical professionals, epidemiologists and statisticians in the state studied all of the options and decided this order was the single best way to keep Alaskans safe.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of any doctor, mention the term “mass casualty incident” or MCI. Think of things like an earthquake, a large structure fire, a terrorist attack. What happens in an MCI is that too many patients flood available hospitals and clinics all at one time. Medical personnel quickly become spread too thin and there aren’t enough hospital beds or lifesaving equipment like ventilators to help everyone in need. Patients with life-threatening issues sometimes don’t get treated in time to save them. Doctors are faced with unbearable choices about whose lives can be saved and whose cannot.

This shelter in place order is intended to prevent Alaska’s health care structure from being overwhelmed and to ward off an unthinkable number of deaths in Alaska. Past pandemics like the 1918 influenza outbreak devastated Alaska. Now, if we slow the number of serious cases of COVID-19 among Alaskans — by people staying home and not infecting others — our medical professionals will be able to give those who are very ill the treatment and resources they desperately need. This gives us time to slow the spread of the disease as our population builds herd immunity while we continue to protect those most at risk.

The alternative — too many sick Alaskans at one time for some to be adequately treated — is what we must prevent.

Think of what we are doing with our mandates as hitting the pause button for two weeks to buy our state and our medical professionals the essential time they need. Time to gather more resources like masks and other protective gear and to increase our ability to test more widely. Time to learn more about this illness and how to best treat it. Time to build alternate care sites should hospitals overflow. Time for those who are already ill to recover and return home.

The downside, of course, is what is being asked now of each and every Alaskan. We didn’t ask for this abrupt change in our lives and we don’t want it. But here we are. As we’ve said many times, Alaskans know how to do hard things. I’m a second generation Alaskan and have always appreciated the unique spirit of our state’s residents, both those who are newer to the state and especially our Alaska Native people who have long known what it is to endure and persevere.

We can be an independent lot who don’t like being told what to do, but we also excel at looking out for our neighbors and building close-knit communities. We know how to survive against the odds, how to make sacrifices and how to work together. This is a time when the actions each of us take can have the very real effect of saving our neighbor’s life. Or the life or a family member, or even our own.

This is temporary. This too shall pass. But for now, please remember that every minute that these important mandates buy us, the more prepared we will be to fight this illness. My goal is to get Alaskans back to that beautiful normal that we all remember from not too long ago. We can do this. Let’s do it together.

Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

• By Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

More in Opinion

Willy Dunne is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. (Courtesy photo)
Vote by mail is safe, fiscally responsible

All registered borough voters would receive a ballot in the mail a few weeks ahead of election day.

It’s time for a real living wage

The federal minimum wage was last increased in 2009.

Alaska Voices: Oil taxes, what oil taxes?

Alaska needs a fair share from the sale of oil to economically recover and have a meaningful future.

Opinion: Finding the intrinsic beauty of sadness

Knowing sadness can be a healthy thing.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson testifies before state senators during a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Juneau. (Becky Bohrer | Associated Press File)
Clarkson: Even during pandemic, there is help for domestic violence victims

As a community we have a responsibility to care for and seek to protect our most vulnerable.

Dave Reaves (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: The time to invest in Alaska is now

We call on Gov. Mike Dunleavy to help move job creating infrastructure projects forward.

The last strand of elodea on the Kenai Peninsula was found during a survey in May 2019. This fragment is brown and brittle, signs of dying from having been treated with herbicide since 2017. (Photo by Matt Bowser/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge).
Alaska Voices: Can Elodea be eradicated?

Infestations have been found on the Kenai Peninsula, around Cordova, and in the Fairbanks area.

COVID-19 harms children in seen and unseen ways

There has been an alarming decrease in all routine health care, including routine vaccinations.

Pay PFD now, make long-term fiscal plan for Alaska

The Ship of State, our government, has lost direction.

Commercial fishing boats are rafted together in May 2016 in the harbor in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Mandates crucial to safety of fishing fleets

As a vessel operator, you are responsible for your crew’s compliance with the mandate.

The entrance to the Kenai Police Department, as seen in Kenai, Alaska, on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
                                The front of the Kenai Police Department as seen on Dec. 10, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Voices: In honor of the thin blue line

During this pandemic our police officers cannot stay home, socially distance, and work remotely.