News-Miner opinion: Although it seems eons have passed, it was only one year ago today that the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Alaska. Since that day, almost 60,000 people in the state have contracted the virus.
The first patient, a cargo pilot and foreign national, developed a fever and respiratory problems shortly after arriving in Anchorage on March 11, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced at the time.
The first death, at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, was only a few weeks later, March 27. Since then, more than 290 people have died of the virus in Alaska.
Over the past year, much has happened. Local governments instituted mask requirements, locked down businesses and government offices, and instituted strict health requirements in an effort to contain the virus. Schools were closed and only now are being reopened.
State officials, aided by $1.5 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding and the state’s declaration of an emergency, worked to keep hospital intensive care units afloat. They worked to overcome an initial shortage of critically needed masks and other personal protection equipment desperately needed by health care workers and to distribute federal aid to cities and local governments. They instituted travel restrictions and closed state offices.
Despite the efforts, on Dec. 4, more than 900 cases were reported as the infection numbers peaked. Over the past few weeks, the number of new cases has averaged about 140.
Today, reported cases of the virus appear to be on the decline, along with the number of virus-caused deaths, as more and more Alaskans are vaccinated. Alaska has become the nation’s vaccination leader, and, on Tuesday the governor opened vaccinations to anyone and everyone 16 and older in the state.
As infection numbers decline, communities battered by the pandemic are beginning to ease their restrictions, allowing businesses, including restaurants and bars, to reopen. It remains to be seen how many will be able to survive the closures.
Alaska’s economy is stumbling along, sucker-punched by the pandemic on the heels of North Slope slowdowns. Increased government mandates have sparked anger and distrust in some circles and despite the evidence, there are those who believe the pandemic is a manufactured crisis.
What is coming next? The future remains uncertain and in large part may depend on what we do next — and maybe a little luck.
It is unknown whether COVID-19 will become something we have to live with, like influenza, with its annual shots, or whether a new strain of the COVID virus will take us back to Square One. Will we one day have access to a pill that will stop the virus in its tracks? It is possible all of that could be true.
Government at all levels in the coming days and months will need to be instantly reactive if infection numbers begin to spike and balance that reaction against the need to spur the economy and allow Alaskans to work and go to school.
But the real work remains for us to do. Government cannot begin to do it all.
At this point, our future is bright, but the biggest enemy is complacency that would allow the virus to gain another foothold. If we continue to act responsibly, if we wear masks in public, wash our hands, and maintain social distancing, Alaska likely will continue on the slow road to what we all miss — normalcy.