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Alaska governor declares emergency amid coronavirus fears

Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel speaks to reporters after the Senate approved funding for the state to respond to the new coronavirus on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. Also pictured, from left, are Sens. Bert Stedman, David Wilson and Natasha von Imhof. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
March 11, 2020 - 6:17 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska - Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday declared a public health disaster emergency in response to the new coronavirus, likening the illness to a “slow-moving storm coming our way.”

The declaration will allow the administration to act more quickly with procurement and in other areas, Dunleavy said. It also would allow the governor to order direct distribution of supplies, move personnel around to help in response efforts and make provisions for the use of temporary emergency housing, if needed, among other things.

The declaration came as state health Commissioner Adam Crum found an outbreak of COVID-19 has a “high probability of occurring in the near future." The World Health Organization has declared the worldwide outbreak of the new coronavirus a pandemic.

State officials had not yet confirmed any cases in Alaska.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 61,000 have so far recovered.

Some groups in Alaska announced plans Wednesday to cancel or postpone events. The Alaska School Activities Association announced that state basketball tournaments and cheer competitions would be postponed “until further notice.”

The state Republican Party said it planned to convene its convention next month using electronic means rather than meeting in Juneau. State GOP Chair Glenn Clary said the party would take up more pressing issues under the new format, such as voting on delegates to the national convention, with plans to reconvene later this year in Juneau to take up other party business.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited precautions people can take to help limit the spread of the virus, such as regularly washing hands, avoiding shaking hands and avoiding crowds, particularly in poorly ventilated areas.

Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, stressed social distancing, defined in part by the CDC as keeping at least 6 feet from others when possible, particularly for those older than 60 or with underlying health conditions.

Zink said that doesn't mean social isolation. “I think it’s important to continue to live our lives but figure out ways that we can modify our life,” she said.

The City and Borough of Juneau, on social media, said the number of audience seats in its Assembly chambers will be decreased, in keeping with distancing guidelines.

Dunleavy said this isn't the time to “buy cartloads of toilet paper. This is not the time to run out and take all the beans off the shelves. This is a time just to be smart about hygiene, smart about how we interact with each other.”

There was no indication of any disruption in the flow of goods to Alaska, he said.

The Legislature on Wednesday approved Dunleavy's request for about $4.1 million in state funds and authority to receive $9 million in federal funds to respond to the virus threat. Senators said additional funding could be needed later.

In 2017, then-Gov. Bill Walker declared a public health disaster emergency in Alaska in response to opioids.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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