After many weeks of uncertainty, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a new Public Health Disaster Emergency Declaration last week, just nine days before the current declaration was set to expire on Nov. 15.
The new declaration will start on Nov. 16 and last 30 days, Dunleavy said in a statement released last Friday. It is set to expire on Dec. 15.
The initial declaration was announced on March 11 in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Alaska.
The Dunleavy said that the extended emergency declaration would not limit businesses or religious gathering spaces like churches, but would aim to give communities and organizations the tools to deal with the spread of COVID-19.
“This is about giving the tools that the communities, municipalities, health organizations, tribal-related organizations, the ability to help mitigate this with the increased testing, with more funding when they need it to be able to get the staff and get the equipment that they need,” he said.
He issued the new order after discussions with legislators, health professionals and business leaders who confirmed that it was in the state’s best interest to ensure an emergency declaration was in place beyond Nov. 15.
“This new disaster declaration is based upon the determination of moving from the threat of a pandemic to an actual pandemic,” Dunleavy said.
“The Legislature has indicated they do not currently have the support of their members to call themselves into a special session. If the Legislature chooses to convene to address this new order, my administration is ready to assist in developing long-term solutions to manage this emergency and protect the public safety and health of Alaskans.”
Adam Crum, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said the disaster declaration allows the governor to waive or suspend regulations that impact flexibility in delivering health care and providing services to vulnerable populations.
“With this new disaster declaration, we will be able to continue our work supporting Alaskans at all levels as this response continues,” Crum said.
According to the press release, the declaration keeps in place the Unified Command structure between the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Public Safety. It also allows other state departments to continue to take steps to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
While some senators question the legality of the order without a vote by the state Legislature, Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) said he does not think any action needs to be taken by the Legislature because it is an extension of the emergency declaration approved in March.
“The emergency declaration is the same thing as it was before,” he said. “We don’t need to take any action.”
Stevens said he supported extending the emergency declaration because many items in the bill are important, such as allocating the rest of the federal government’s economic aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
During Friday’s press briefing, Dunleavy reiterated the importance of wearing masks, but said he would not issue a state mandate to wear masks. Instead, he said he would support local communities and businesses to mandate mask-wearing if needed.
The Department of Health and Social Services reported 604 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, a record number in the state since the pandemic began.