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Town Hall explores the state’s COVID-19 response, future plans

Vaccine, travel restrictions and local mandates were among main discussion topics
Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum participates in a town hall on Sept. 22, 2020.
Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum participates in a town hall on Sept. 22, 2020.(Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)
Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 6:22 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A virtual town hall on Tuesday sought to answer some of the questions many Alaskans have about the state’s COVID-19 response, including addressing differences between local mandates and state guidelines; Alaska’s disaster declaration, which remains in place; and the plan for distributing a vaccine, whenever one becomes available.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy was not part of the town hall -- instead tending to another obligation, according to his press office -- but several state leaders participated in the event hosted by the governor’s office. Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, Alaska Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Torrence Saxe and Acting Attorney General Ed Sniffen were among those in attendance.

Topics spanned far and wide, with comments on both urban and rural communities across the state woven into the discussion. One of the most dominant topics was how local governments may enforce their own mandates during the pandemic.

“The governor has fairly broad emergency powers that are given to him under Alaska law,” Sniffen said. “Issue mandates, restrict movements of people, he can spend certain amounts of money. There are a litany of things under the Disaster Act that give the governor the authority and power to respond to the emergency inappropriate ways."

“The Disaster Act also contemplates some shared responsibility with our local governments to also respond to the disaster, depending on the conditions in the local communities,” Sniffen said. “The governor’s statewide authority may preempt things that are inconsistent or incompatible with what the governor does. But if there isn’t any kind of inconsistency or incompatibility, the local governments also have quite a bit of authority -- under our Disaster Act -- to take action to respond to this disaster as well.”

Though Dunleavy was absent, his communications director responded to a request for comment on whether or not Dunleavy agree with the more extensive restrictions imposed within certain communities, such as the Municipality of Anchorage.

“It is important to recognize that Gov. Dunleavy and local officials are all working toward the same goals, protecting Alaskans from COVID-19 and reopening the state’s economy so Alaskans can get back to work," said the governor’s Deputy Director of Communications, Jeff Turner, in a prepared statement Tuesday evening.

Another major point of discussion was the activation of the Alaska National Guard to assist with the state’s response to the pandemic. The group will also be helping with elections later this year, according to Saxe.

“Over the past year, I’ve heard a lot of comments as well, ‘biblical proportions,’” said the Brigadier General. "We’ve got floods in Willow, a (magnitude) 7.8 earthquake on the Aleutians, just today discussing the best way to go forward on that. And we’ve had a lot of fires.

“We have not had to activate in large numbers,” he continued, “but on the local declaration, that’s where we engage.”

Travel restrictions also remain in place for now, with visitors still expected to get tested within 72 hours of scheduled arrival to Alaska. Crum said other states are now looking to Alaska for guidance on how to implement travel restrictions.

“This has been a means to just make sure that you are paying attention,” he said. "It’s an intentionality. Before you come here, you’re going to do what you can to have a negative test, so you don’t have to get up here and actually have to pay for your own quarantine.

“You’re taking care of yourself,” he said. “A trip to Alaska is a special thing. So make sure you’re doing everything in advance to take care of that.”

In addition, the state is creating a strategy for potential coronavirus vaccinations for Alaskans, with a team dedicated to figuring out how to distribute it when it becomes available.

“With these different vaccines being developed -- a lot of them have different storage, needle sizes, temperatures, some have to be inoculated on day 21, day 28,” Crum said, “so there’s a lot of various plans on which vaccine we actually will get, how we will distribute that and what that looks like. So we have a team working on that as we speak, right now.”

You can watch a full replay of Tuesday’s town hall here.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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