The headline in the Anchorage Daily News said, “State clarifies Alaska’s new COVID-19 testing plan for nonresident air travel.”
The state press release version of the testing policy for nonresidents disguises what really happened and tries to erase an incompetent decision announced one week before by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
An accurate headline would have said, “State reverses Alaska’s new COVID-19 testing plan for nonresident air travel.”
On July 28, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that as of Aug. 11, nonresident travelers would not be allowed to come to Alaska without having taken a test demonstrating that they were free of the disease.
“Starting on August 11 all non-residents must arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours prior to arrival,” one of Dunleavy’s slides said. “Testing will no longer be available for nonresidents when they arrive.”
Dunleavy said the state was doing this to reduce the number of travelers coming to Alaska who unknowingly are carriers of the disease and to save scarce testing supplies for use by residents only.
“We’re gonna need those supplies to deal with some of the outbreaks here in the state of Alaska,” he said. “We will still test residents of Alaska coming and going at the airport if they don’t have a test before they leave and when they come back from their destination.”
“But testing on Aug. 11 for nonresidents will cease. They need to come into the state of Alaska with a negative test,” he said. “Now some folks are gonna say, this is going to be problematic. this is a burden. They can’t get tests. There’s no doubt that every aspect of our lives is gonna be impacted by this virus, including travel.”
“But on the eleventh, you want to make sure you have a negative test,” he said, referring to travelers to Alaska.
Asked how the state would deal with travelers who showed up without a test, Dunleavy said he did not know. “We’re going to work through the enforcement issues,” Dunleavy said.
Had anyone thought about this for more than a few seconds, it would have been clear that the Dunleavy plan bordered on the impossible.
He would need to either get Alaska Airlines and all other carriers with flights to Alaska to refuse to sell tickets and refused to honor tickets for nonresident travelers who had not been tested within three days of a flight.
Or he would have to send state employees dispatched to ticket counters at every airport in the United States with a flight or connecting flight to Alaska, preventing the untested from checking luggage or heading to security.
Instead of admitting that the plan announced July 28 was an unworkable mess, Dunleavy abandoned it a week later, saying the new plan would allow nonresidents to come to Alaska without getting tested, but they would have to pay $250 for a test at the airport.
“Testing is available at the airports and we will be charging a fee for those tests,” health commissioner Adam Crum said.
Dunleavy and other state officials have not been candid about this change. As with other actions, the state plans to rely on the honor system and use education, instead of enforcement on those who refuse to pay for a test.
The health department has this false statement on its website: “All non-residents must arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to departure or proof of a pending test result from a test taken within 72 hours prior to departure.”
The statement is contradicted on the same page five sentences later: “If a non-resident arrives without a pre-test, testing is available for $250 per test.”
The news coverage of Dunleavy’s reversal did not delve into any aspect of the management failure that led to the plan announced July 28 or the deceptive language the state continues to use.
The idea is to discourage nonresidents from coming to Alaska without getting a test. The way to make that more discouraging is to raise the cost. What we don’t need is deliberate deception by the state.
There could be a legal question about the appropriate use of federal COVID-19 bailout money by the state. Since these and other expenses are subsidized by the federal government, the state has no business using that money to give free tests to residents, while charging nonresidents.
That’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com.