As Anchorage’s current emergency order is set to expire, how effective was it?

Local health experts say number of virus cases cut in half since November spike
Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 4:48 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As Anchorage’s Emergency Order-16 comes to a close and Emergency Order-17 will take its place at 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day, how effective was EO-16 in slowing down the spread of the virus?

“I certainly think EO-16 was a big part of it,” Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Janet Johnston said. “In mid-November, we saw numbers just skyrocketing and I have to say I was very nervous because as I watched the numbers, there was nothing to make me think it was going to turn around.”

Much to the chagrin of local business owners, most notably bar and restaurant owners who voiced frustration with the order, citing it damaged their livelihood and aided in their struggles to make ends meet, health officials say the order was needed in order to allow those businesses to slowly reopen their doors.

“I think putting EO-16 into place really made a difference,” Johnston said. “It reduced the places where people could be mixing which is where you get transmission.”

Johnston feels the order also helped people understand how serious of a situation Anchorage was dealing with.

“We’ve come down now by cutting the numbers in half on our average daily new cases,” Johnston said. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable but I’m still concerned as numbers are still high by any reasonable standard.”

Just how effective the order was continues to be a debate. The fact is the numbers are going down and health officials applaud the vigilance of all Alaskans in making it all possible.

“I just think Alaskans are doing a really good job of following the mitigation strategies,” Alaska State Epidemiologist Dr. Joseph McLaughin said during Thursday’s science ECHO conference. “I think that’s making a really big difference.”

McLaughlin says Alaskans need to stay on top of the virus as long as they can.

“Big picture is that Alaskans are doing a really great job right now of hunkering down and social distancing,” McLaughlin said. “People are becoming more accustomed to wearing masks and it’s becoming more of a normal thing.”

As the number decline, health experts are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“If we can keep the numbers low for the next couple of months, it’s much easier for teachers to teach without being exposed,” State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said. “It’s easier for businesses to be open and it’s easier for us to see each other.”

She adds that Alaska is not out of the woods yet.

“This will get better, this will end,” Zink said. “January and February can be long in winter, let’s not make it COVID long as well. Let’s do this for our kids and elders right now.”

State and local health experts ask that gatherings during New Year’s eve and day remain small and if possible, spent at home. While Emergency Order-17 does open the door slightly for some businesses, most of the restrictions will remain in place.

“We are opening up restaurants to in-person dining if you are comfortable with that but again only at a 25% capacity, some businesses are going at 50% capacity,” Johnston said. “We want people to be careful, and I think people are being careful which is good.”

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