Senators send a last-ditch appeal to the governor, with Alaska’s emergency disaster declaration set to expire over the weekend

Alaska State Capitol
Alaska State Capitol(KTUU)
Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 7:16 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In January, Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced legislation that sought to extend Alaska’s public health emergency disaster declaration through September. The bill was amended, reducing the extension to 30 days; however, with one side of the legislature unorganized heading into the Valentine’s Day weekend, there was never much of a chance that the bill would pass.

As an alternative, the Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 11-6 on Friday — asking the governor to intervene by issuing a new, “narrow” public health order.

Not many people are entirely clear on what the looming expiration date means for Alaska’s COVID-19 response, but the loss of federal funding and waivers that have allowed health care providers to adapt based on the public’s needs are likely.

“Please, for God’s sake, let’s tell the governor that we need him to create a new order,” Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, told his colleagues, “so that the hundreds of millions of dollars that will help us get Alaskans back to their feet will come to our state.”

The governor has previously said that any additional extensions to the state’s emergency disaster declaration would be up to lawmakers. It’s unclear whether he has the legal authority to step in. During a press availability following the Senate’s vote, Micciche indicated multiple times that he felt this resolution was the body’s only path forward with the house still not organized.

“If someone wants to take this to court and compromise the ability for hungry kids in my community to get their food programs because of nothing that’s a fault of their own, bring it on,” he said.

Hours after the resolution passed, the governor’s office released the following statement on the matter:

“In the absence of a declaration, my administration is fully prepared to manage the rollout and distribution of the vaccine to ensure anyone that wants a vaccination will be able to get one. We will also continue to respond to COVID-19 as we begin the process of getting back to normal as soon as possible by focusing on the economy and assisting Alaskans in staying healthy. As we move forward, we will notify Alaska and stakeholders of our plans.”

Health care officials are worried that a disruption in the rollout of vaccines will only be one of many not-yet-known consequences if the declaration expires. Emily Ford, Government Affairs Director for Providence Hospital, told Alaska’s News Source that the loss of this declaration would result in a great amount of uncertainty during a critical time in health care for Alaska — disrupting everything from relaxed telehealth requirements to bringing up legality concerns for medical units that were stood up specifically to handle the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“It really is the cornerstone of the federal flexibilities and our abilities to adapt and change to serve the public during the pandemic,” she said.

Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President Jared Kosin also noted that the waivers included under a state of emergency have been a crucial component for hospitals and clinics dealing with staff shortages during the pandemic. He believes that there’s a widespread misconception about what it actually means for the state to be under a public health emergency disaster declaration.

“A lot of people are associating the emergency declaration with things like mask mandates, hunker downs, school closures,” Kosin said. “To set the record straight, the emergency declaration at a state level has nothing to do with those.”

Anchorage Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel confirmed that regardless of whether or not the state’s declaration expires, Anchorage’s health mandates are implemented at a local level, and will remain in effect. Vogel did say that certain aspects of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions, like the current travel orders, are considered a part of the statewide declaration and would likely be replaced by local orders.

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