Alaska rolls out plan to use hotels, dorms to quarantine health care workers and homeless families

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference in Anchorage about COVID-19, Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Creative Commons photo by Alaska Governor’s Office)

Updated story — Tegan Hanlon, Alaska Public Media

State officials on Monday announced a plan to use university dorms, hotel rooms and other buildings to temporarily quarantine and isolate health care workers and some homeless families if needed.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said the new mandate gives the state access to federal funding to help pay for the temporary housing for specific groups.

“First responders and health care workers who need to quarantine safely without exposing their families,” he said. “Homeless families with at least one member who tested positive for COVID-19 and homeless individuals who require quarantine or isolation.”

Crum outlined the latest mandate at a news conference Monday evening.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also announced that five more Alaskans tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 277. The state reported one more hospitalization and no new deaths. At least 85 Alaskans have recovered from the disease.

“Alaska is doing pretty good dealing with this virus compared to other locales,” Dunleavy said.

Four of the newly-diagnosed Alaskans are from the Anchorage area and one is an employee at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau. A total of four of the workers at the prison have been diagnosed with the disease so far.

At the news conference, Dunleavy said he’s monitoring the state’s COVID-19 cases to determine when to restart sectors of Alaska’s economy. He said he plans to work with local governments and industry leaders to determine when to reopen businesses and communities.

“This is going to be the week that we’re going to start talking about the economy,” Dunleavy said. “And how we are going to be able to re-enter an era of normalcy, or at least as close to it as possible. We may not get back totally to where we were before this virus, but it’s our goal to get our life back, our economy back, to as close as possible.”

Dunleavy said he’s going to put Alaskans’ health first. He said the state could open a few sectors at a time and then monitor how that impacts the number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska. Depending on the results, it could relax additional restrictions or not.

“We’re not going to do anything unilaterally,” Dunleavy said.

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said one of her focuses is testing. About a month ago, the state estimated it needed somewhere between 2.5 million and 3 million tests, Zink said, and “we are a long way from that right now.”

“I think we’re going to need enough tests to be able to test all Alaskans multiple times for numerous reasons, and so that’s what we’re shooting for,” Zink said.

She said one of the biggest obstacles is the availability of the chemicals needed for the testing, known as reagents. The availability of swabs and vials that the swabs go into are also limitations.

“We are literally looking at how to manufacture every part ourselves,” she said.

She underscored that the global pandemic will not be over soon, and thanked Alaskans for the work they’ve done so far to help slow the spread of the virus in the state.

“This disease doesn’t go away tomorrow,” she said. “This disease doesn’t go away if we start to open things up. This is going to be a long haul.”

Original post — Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest COVID-19 press conference is scheduled for 5 p.m.

Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink will also participate by videoconference. Dunleavy has been holding these briefings almost daily since March 10.

Press briefings notwithstanding, the state has been sharing COVID-19 data on testing, confirmed cases, local counts and recoveries on this interactive online data hub. Additional public health information about COVID-19 in Alaska — including the 14 public health mandates in effect — are available at coronavirus.alaska.gov.

You can watch the press conference live on this post, the governor’s Facebook or Livestream pages, or on 360 North television.

This preview was written by KTOO’s Jeremy Hsieh.

Correction: An earlier version of this story understated the number of public health mandates that had been issued as of Monday afternoon. There were 13, not 12. Later, a 14th mandate was issued.

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