Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, March 27, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, March 27, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Opinion: Wear masks, distance for the good of community

Distance is the only guaranteed measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Alaskans are not known for accepting limits. The COVID-19 virus has challenged that attitude in ways we never imagined.

Despite that, and in the midst of the worst pandemic the world has seen in at least 100 years, our state immediately took action. You started working from home, you home-schooled your children, you ordered takeout, and you washed your hands, a lot. Perhaps most importantly, you understood the need to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. For that we say thank you.

We have experienced high COVID-19 case counts in recent days, but Alaska’s overall case count numbers remain among the lowest in the nation. We’ve been able to treat patients quickly and effectively, preventing a medical surge and saving lives. Now our focus must shift to keeping it that way.

This pandemic is not done with us yet. COVID-19 is a serious disease for many and there is still no vaccine.

Now more than ever, we need something from all Alaskans: Please continue to keep 6 feet from others and avoid gathering in large crowds. It is important that Alaskans choose to continue with these preventative measures if we’re going to manage the virus.

COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and sneaky. People can spread it without knowing they have it. Some are completely asymptomatic throughout the course of the disease, and for others the symptoms might not have shown up yet. The good news is that children with COVID-19 are unlikely to get very sick and even less likely to die. The bad news is that, too often, it can be deadly for elders and those already ill. This is why wearing a cloth face covering in public is so important.

Cloth face coverings have proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in countries where they are commonly worn and accepted, and they are inexpensive and easy to make. They have been shown to be particularly effective at preventing people infected with the virus from spreading it to others. No, face coverings are not foolproof, but they can help.

Humans are social creatures. It’s important that we continue to keep our distance but it’s inevitable we will sometimes end up closer than 6 feet from others. If you’re visiting a friend, you may need to lean in so they can hear you better, or you may need to stand in line at the post office or grocery store. Whatever the case may be, cloth face coverings can decrease the risk of transmitting the virus from person to person in these common situations.

Other measures are also important in reducing the spread and infection rate of the virus — washing your hands, wiping down frequently touched surfaces and objects, and staying home when you are sick. However, the best defense is staying 6 feet apart or more. Distance is the only guaranteed measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When we use these preventative measures together, the sum of the parts is more powerful. The same applies to us. If everyone — even those of us with no symptoms — makes a habit of wearing face coverings in public places and keeping our social units smaller for now, we can decrease the virus’ transmission. We know it’s not easy, but it’s worth doing.

This is what puts the “public” in public health — people taking actions that contribute to the overall good health of our state. Taking reasonable precautions to stop this virus once and for all is something we can do to protect our loved ones.

You’ve done an incredible job, Alaska. Let’s finish strong.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, elected in 2018, is the 12th governor of Alaska. Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Dr. Anne Zink, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer.

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