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Some positive trends reported at Anchorage’s Friday COVID press conference

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz introduces Janet Johnston, a new epidemiologist for the Municipality of Anchorage.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz introduces Janet Johnston, a new epidemiologist for the Municipality of Anchorage.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 8:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It wasn’t all bad news coming out of the Friday COVID press conference for the Municipality of Anchorage. Some of the trends announced aren’t quite cause for celebration yet, but overall, the messages were reassuring.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz introduced a new epidemiologist for the municipality, Janet Johnston, who reported that active case numbers are on a downward slope. However, Johnston said they are continuing to be cautious because ICU hospitalizations are remaining steady.

Still, she cited a model from UAA indicating that, based on numbers through Aug. 9 in Anchorage is about 16 weeks away from the hospitals being overwhelmed. That’s double the amount of time from the July 26 calculation of that same model.

Dr. Bruce Chandler with the Anchorage Health Department provided a healthy dose of reality after that news was announced, and encouraged folks to not become complacent.

“Despite some lower case reports earlier this week, COVID remains widespread in the community,” Chandler said. “The numbers earlier led to some optimism, but I’m not sure that we can say reliably that we are out of the COVID storm.”

Chandler continued, pointing out flare-ups in places like the Pioneer Homes and other assisted living facilities that they are still closely investigating. On Anchorage’s transmission model, it was shown that we are still in the high-risk category.

Berkowitz said the Municipality is trying to give out some newly available funding from the CARES Act as fast as possible.

After passing a spending plan for the CARES Act money earlier in the week, Berkowitz pointed out other key areas where folks are struggling where help is ready. He said about a thousand household have taken advantage of aid for rentals and mortgages; about a million dollars given out to childcare providers and there are fee reduction aids available for parents.

He also said more than $14 million dollars is available for tourism and hospitality businesses. In the press conference, Berkowitz acknowledged on multiple occasions how hard this sector has been hit.

“We have placed an undue burden on hospitality industries here,” he said, “in many ways, they are shielding all the other business in town by shutting down so that the other businesses can remain open.”

Berkowitz said folks should call 211 or reach out to the appropriate agencies to be connected with these resources.

As far as municipal aid goes, Berkowitz said it’s ‘no strings attached,’ even if folks get help from the state or federal level first. However, he said they are not sure if it works the same way around.

“We are not so certain that that works in reciprocal terms,” he said. “That if you take city money, it might impact your ability to take state or federal money. So we’re trying to work through those provisions as well as finding an equitable way of dispersing those funds as quickly as possible.”

Before questions, President of Alaska Pacific University, Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson and Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Cathy Sandeen, spoke about what’s going to happen at the two big colleges in Anchorage.

Like many other learning institutions right now, the vast majority of classes are going to be online in the coming fall. Sandeen and Davidson spoke about how some degrees can’t be earned online, so there will be some in-class programs. They both said these have been adjusted for social distancing.

They both said housing options will be made available for those that need them with self-isolation and food delivery set up for students upon arrival.

While the pandemic has been catastrophic to so many establishments, Sandeen ended on another positive note saying enrollment didn’t continue to drop at UAA but rather is staying relatively flat when compared with last year.

According to the Mayor’s Office, announcements on the allocation of the rest of the city’s CARES Act funding will be made on Aug. 17.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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