Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday that he wants people to go outdoors. Just don’t congregate.
Speaking during a nightly coronavirus news briefing, he explained why he’s not issuing tougher mandates to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska.
New cases are reported every day. In Fairbanks, health care providers and local governments are ringing alarm bells calling for more urgent action from the state.
Dunleavy and his chief medical officer said repeatedly that residents need to avoid contact with people outside of their immediate household, but the governor stopped short of mandating that people shelter in place because he doesn’t want people to shy away from outdoor activities.
“This is not a political move,” he said. “We think this is the best way to go for Alaska at this point.”
The governor would consider a stricter social distancing mandate if people were congregating in large groups, as they were recently on beaches in Florida, he said.
As long as people are exercising social distancing, he doesn’t want Alaskans “locked in their houses.”
“If we need to, we will take more stiffer actions,” he said.
Ongoing persuasion asking people to avoid contact with others is more effective than government orders, Dunleavy said.
“That is worth a lot more than an edict from the government that may or may not be followed,” he said.
Officials repeated throughout the news conference that Alaskans need to avoid contact with others — especially during the next two weeks.
“Being close to each other is incredibly dangerous right now,” said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.
On Sunday, about 50 Fairbanks area physicians asked the state to take stricter measures against the coronavirus, including issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order.
Some of the doctors’ requests were echoed in a letter Monday when the area’s largest health care providers, such as Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, joined with municipal governments in calling for the state to “issue a strong urgency to Interior residents to stay at home.”
Leaders in other Alaska communities have called on residents to shelter in place.
Fairbanks city and borough mayors said they lack the power to require local residents to stay home. The North Pole mayor said it’s unclear if he has the power to do that.
Emergency declared for city of Fairbanks
Mayor Jim Matherly issued an emergency declaration for the city of Fairbanks on Tuesday due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He implored residents to avoid contact with others.
“It is imperative that we act now by remaining in our homes and staying away from public places unless absolutely necessary,” Matherly said in a prepared statement. “I’ve spent many hours in the recent days hearing from local physicians, and the situation in Fairbanks is very serious.
“The number of confirmed positive cases does not reflect the full picture,” he said. “Every resident needs to do their part to protect themselves, their families, and the community.
“If your family needs groceries, only send one person to the store,” he said. “Check in on those considered high risk; help those ones stay home by going to the grocery store or pharmacy for them. I am imploring the community to take this seriously and stay home.”
The declaration will be in effect for seven days or as long as needed if the City Council ratifies it at its March 30 council meeting.
The city is working closely with medical experts, according to a news release. Matherly supports their recommendations for slowing the spread of the virus. State mandates in connection with the pandemic can be found at www.coronavirus.alaska.gov.
In addition to declaring an emergency, the measure allows the city to seek state and federal assistance in connection with the coronavirus.
Borough Assembly to take up emergency proclamation Thursday
A resolution ratifying a disaster declaration in the Fairbanks North Star Borough comes before the assembly for a vote at a special meeting Thursday.
The resolution by borough Mayor Bryce Ward does three things.
It provides that “orders and/or regulations may be issued as necessary to deal with this disaster emergency.”
It provides that the borough would be on emergency status until Sept. 26, 2020 “or until the virus is no longer declared a federal or state emergency, whichever occurs first.”
The resolution provides that requests will be made of state and federal authorities to help with disaster response and recovery.
Assembly Presiding Officer Matt Cooper said the resolution provides the mayor authority to shift borough resources toward disaster response.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.