Dermot Cole

Gov. Mike Dunleavy needs to listen to hundreds of Alaska’s medical experts who say that an immediate travel ban and “stay in place” order is needed to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed.

“Our medical resources are finite and we are potentially a week away from New York and 2-3 weeks from Italy,” the doctors said in a letter delivered to the governor Sunday.

They said lessons from other parts of the world “suggest that a government mandated travel ban and stay in place order is the only way to keep Alaska from becoming overwhelmed with critically ill patients.”

The situation could soon become dire. Every hour of delay increases the risk of collapse. The good thing is that “Alaska’s relative isolation will make a travel ban particularly effective.” But the longer the state waits, the less effective it will be.

In letters to Dunleavy, the doctors from across the state warn that far too many people without symptoms are ignoring the voluntary recommendations to limit travel and that mandatory rules have to be put in place.

The state should ban non-essential travel and implement a quarantine.

Most of the people who come down with the disease get it from others who don’t have symptoms and are not even aware they are sick, the letters said. That is how the disease has spread so rapidly elsewhere, pushing Italy to the point of collapse and creating a severe crisis in places across the U.S.

“Alaska needs a shelter in place order now and Alaska needs a mandate travel ban,” says one of letters, signed by 118 individual doctors, as well as by doctors representing 45 emergency room physicians at Providence and the 77 physicians in the Alaska Hospitalist Group. There was also a letter from dozens of Fairbanks doctors, many of whom signed both.

They are right. Dunleavy needs to move on this without more delay.

“We implore you to take immediate action so that our hospitals and health care providers will not be overwhelmed when the inevitable wave of new cases arrives,” the letter states. “Acting today will likely save Alaskan lives. We and all Alaskans depend on your prompt leadership on this matter.”

“Due to the currently low number of reported cases, many Alaskans have not embraced the need for more stringent measures and are continuing to move around the state without regard for their potential to be affected or to be a carrier,” they said.

“We physicians have done everything we can to prepare and educate our families and patients. The next step can only be done through your exercise of executive power. Alaska needs a shelter in place order and a mandated travel ban which are enforced. The time to act is now,” the doctors said.

On Friday, Dunleavy said the state was waiting and not ready to act on a travel ban, which had been recommended in an open letter to him by emergency room physicians from across the state. He said he wanted to try and keep some “normalcy of life” and that “community outbreaks will be a trigger.”

But things are not normal with the spread of this disease from people who appear to be healthy. And when hospitals are overwhelmed with a community outbreak, that will not be a trigger, but evidence that he waited too long.

“We believe the time to shut down any non-essential out-of-state travel is now. We also believe restrictions on in-state travel, especially to remote communities, should be considered,” the emergency room doctors said last week.

“The time for travel restriction is now. We are confident you can develop a coherent policy that maintains our supply chain, maritime industries, and addresses medical, family and business emergencies, while minimizing risk of continued importation of cases,” the ER directors of eight major Alaska hospitals said.

The state said Friday it would strongly advise people against non-essential travel but it was in a document labeled, “This is not a mandate.”

On Friday, Dunleavy said, “We are prepared at any moment to implement more mandates to protect the health and safety of Alaskans.”

“We’re going to follow this and get the advice, the best advice we can from the medical profession, CDC and those health officials in Washington, D.C.”

He got the best advice from Alaska doctors last week, but has yet to take it.

Load comments