Gov. Mike Dunleavy did not announce any more Alaskans who had been infected with COVID-19 on Tuesday, but in a surprise press conference announced that phases three and four of his plan to reopen Alaska’s economy responsibly will occur on Friday.
“Friday we’re open for business across the state of Alaska,” said Dunleavy.
On Monday, Dunleavy had hinted that he would have an announcement to make at his next press conference, which had been taking place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but Dunleavy stepped to the podium confidently on Tuesday to announce that all Alaskan businesses could be open without restrictions at 8 a.m. on May 22.
However, large gatherings and festivals must still consult with public health officials before putting more than 50 people in one room. The guidelines for Phases three and four were released after the press conference was completed.
“We all agree it’s time to get moving and again we’ll know that there’s going to be case increases. We know that, but we are prepared to deal with that. Our health care capacity right now will be able to deal with a certain number of cases,” said Dunelavy.
With no new cases to detail, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink made a statement of just over 10 seconds before ceding to Dunleavy for more presentation on how businesses will be permitted to function on Friday morning. Zink said that an inmate at a Department of Corrections facility in Anchorage had tested positive for COVID-19 and that the inmate case would be reflected on Wednesday’s case counts. Zink was asked whether she thought that mask wearing would become common in Alaska far into the future and Zink said that while COVID-19 infection is spreading in Alaska, face coverings are a valuable tool and encouraged people to wear them.
“We know that this pandemic is not over and we know that it still exists and we need to continue to do the hard work that it takes to try to mitigate the disease,” said Zink.
On Friday when Phase three and four are put into effect, all businesses, houses of worship, libraries and museums, recreational and sports activities will be permitted. Dunleavy said that Alaska was “morphing from mandates to guidelines.”
The 14-day mandatory quarantine for any persons traveling into Alaska from another country or state remains in effect until June 2. Dunleavy said he had been in discussions with the Air Carriers Association and hopes to quickly develop protocols that would allow for out of state travelers to enter Alaska again. Dunleavy said that he hoped to find a solution and allow out of state travelers to return to Alaska as soon as possible.
“We will see increase in cases but what we’ll do is we’ll manage the clusters or the spikes on an individual basis,” said Dunleavy. “Keep that virus at bay and avoid any unnecessary contact with others because we know that’s how it’s spread.”
Remaining in effect are Health Mandates 15, 17 and 18. Health Mandate 15 providing guidance for elective medical and dental procedures, the commercial fishing industry and intrastate travel. Dunleavy did not make any predictions as to how the Alaska State Fair might look in the fall, but had high hopes.
“When it comes to large gatherings like the Fair with a lot of people in one area, we’re going to have to figure out a way to help make that work so that we can again, protect the health of folks,” said Dunleavy. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to open up the local businesses now, so we can concentrate on the air travel issue and some of these large congregate types of businesses that rely on large groups of people.”
After two long months, on Friday Alaska’s businesses will be able to reopen. Dunleavy said he wanted to get Alaska’s economy reopened in May so that Alaskans could enjoy the summer months of June and July as close to normal as possible.
“Our job with the state is to make sure that we have a health care system that can withstand a rise in cases. It’s going to be up to the businesses and individuals to manage and monitor their own lives,” said Dunleavy.