Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, M.D., left, meets Homer Mayor Ken Castner, right, at a meet-and-greet on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Homer Public Health Center in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, M.D., left, meets Homer Mayor Ken Castner, right, at a meet-and-greet on Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Homer Public Health Center in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)

Opinion: Alaskans must work together to support in-person learning

We now have effective tools to slow the spread of COVID-19, or at least to reduce its impact on an infected person.

By Dr. Anne Zink

There’s excitement in the air at our house and across Alaska. School is coming back. Backpacks, pencils, first-day outfits, plus the joy of meeting new teachers, reconnecting with old friends, starting a new year, a new beginning — these are memories that last a lifetime.

These past 18 months have been long and hard for all of us, and while everyone’s journey has been different, we all want COVID to be over. Some Alaskans have become sick, some have lost loved ones, some contracted COVID but were asymptomatic or barely ill, many lost or changed jobs, and many kids learned remotely all year while others were in person. Some children thrived; many others struggled. Despite these different experiences, one truth unites us — we all want our kids, our communities, our families and our friends to be healthy, well and thriving.

The early part of the summer provided a glimpse of better times. COVID cases plunged, vaccines were plentiful, more treatment options became available, testing was widespread, and hospitals had ample rooms for seriously ill patients. Then the COVID virus mutated, the delta variant exploded, cases surged, and reinfection and breakthrough cases occurred. Coupled with Alaska’s limited health care capacity and the constant pandemic-related stress and workforce shortages, our hospitals are now often stretched beyond capacity. This makes meeting standards of care for patients experiencing everything from strokes and trauma to cancer and other serious health issues much more challenging.

We now have effective tools to slow the spread of COVID-19, or at least to reduce its impact on an infected person; however, it takes each of us choosing every day to be healthy, well and supportive of each other to keep COVID at bay.

Here are five specific actions we can take to support our children with in-person learning this year:

Give each other space and grace. This has been hard on everyone, and we are all doing our best. Our children are watching us. Now is the time to treat each other with kindness and compassion.

Prioritize health, both mental and physical. Get outside and play, eat well, get plenty of rest, connect with others in your community and listen to children as they find their way through this ordeal as well.

Get vaccinated. This is our single most effective tool against the pandemic. It is free and widely available. At this point, we are all choosing between the virus and the disease, and while vaccines help protect us, they also help protect those who cannot yet get vaccinated, namely children under age 12. In addition, vaccinated individuals don’t need to quarantine if exposed to COVID, which keeps them in school, at work, and involved with sports and other activities so critical for their development.

Test. Often. Get tested as soon as COVID-like symptoms start. Consider testing before and after events or travel. Unvaccinated Alaskans and regularly exposed people should test even more frequently. Plan before you need to test about how you will do so when the time comes: Will you use an at-home test, visit a local testing site or a private medical office? Figure that out now. If you test positive, isolate immediately, and let your close contacts know. If you are in a high-risk category, consider receiving treatment with monoclonal antibodies to reduce your risk of hospitalization.

Use layered prevention such as masking, distancing and ventilation, especially now when cases are high and climbing. Per CDC guidelines, K-12 students who properly use masks won’t need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19 in an indoor classroom. We know from experience that masking works; when kids used masks in schools last year very little transmission occurred. It is one thing to open schools; it is another to keep them open. Masking is a game changer for kids getting to learn in person.

It is true COVID does not affect children in the same way as adults, but it is still not an experience anyone wants to endure. Not to mention, our children are part of our community and live with parents, siblings, grandparents, or others, some of whom may be high risk. We have a shared responsibility to take practical safety measures to keep our children safe and healthy as well as in school where most students learn best. We have tools to keep ourselves and each other well, but we must use them.

In my years living and working in Alaska, I’ve seen firsthand the extraordinary community spirit Alaskans are famous for. Neighbors take care of each other, and no one is left behind. It is time to bring that same attitude to keeping our students in school this year, where they absolutely need to be.

Dr. Anne Zink, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer.

More in Opinion

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Alex Koplin is a founding member of Kenai Peninsula Votes. (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: 1 candidate dined, 47 to go

By Alex Koplin Last month, I wrote a satirical piece for the… Continue reading

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

The logo of the Homer Trails Alliance.
Point of View: Connecting our community through trails

Homer is booming with housing development and the viability of long-standing trails is threatened

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
How do I choose a candidate for this Special Primary Election?

You could start by making a list of your top choices with the issues they support that you care about

The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)
Opinion: Supporting and protecting Alaskans during breakup and fire season

Our mantra is Team Alaska — we are here to help Alaskans and our communities.

Most Read