Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration expired at midnight on Sunday.
Rather than renew it, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a “recovery and transition plan” aimed at starting the process of “moving Alaska to the path to normalcy” while managing the virus, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
As part of the plan, Dunleavy directed commissioners and state employees to continue following all policies that were in place under the now-expired COVID-19 disaster declaration.
“Over the next several weeks, commissioners will review and advise the governor on which policies are still necessary to keep in place to ease the burden on the public’s interaction with government, and which items he should allow to lapse,” the statement said.
The state also issued four new health advisories that address general safety, travel and critical infrastructure, with appendices focusing on the seafood industry. Each will remain in effect until rescinded.
Health Advisory 1 addresses the safety measures Alaskans can take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These include familiar recommendations to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice good hygiene.
Health Advisory 2 focuses on international and interstate travel.
“While Alaska resident and non-resident travelers will no longer be required to have pre-travel negative tests upon arrival, it is still considered one of the best mechanisms to track the virus and prevent community spread. The existing airport testing infrastructure will remain in place to protect Alaskans and visitors alike,” the statement said, adding, “As a reminder, anyone positive for COVID-19 is not allowed to travel.”
Health Advisory 3 outlines expectations of communities for allowing intrastate travel.
The advisory recommends COVID testing three days prior to travel to locations on the road system and the Alaska Marine Highway System. For other locations, a test is recommended for trips lasting longer than 72 hours before returning to a rural community. Without a test, strict social distancing should be followed.
Health Advisory 4 provides guidance for critical infrastructure businesses operating in Alaska to protect both communities and industries.
“My administration will begin moving Alaska, its economy and our lives forward through this transition and recovery process,” Dunleavy said in Sunday’s press statement.
“Make no mistake about it, the virus may be with us for some time. But the data shows that the worst is most likely behind us. Alaska’s vaccination plan is one of the most successful in the country and we have faith that the health care system is robust and prepared. My plan can get us there if we continue to keep an eye on the data, and Alaskans continue taking personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing.”
Adam Crum, commissioner for the Department of Health and Social Services, said that throughout the state’s response to the pandemic, the goal has been to support and provide resources to communities and to Alaskans.
“While we have amended our plans, we will continue to find ways to serve Alaskans as we transition to a recovery phase,” he said.
“We all know there is still a ways to go, but we are in this great position because of Alaskans continuing to do the right thing by protecting themselves and each other, and we will come out stronger on the other side, together.”
The state Senate and House last week had both encouraged the governor to extend the disaster declaration, with the Senate passing a nonbinding resolution Friday urging Dunleavy to act. On Wednesday, 20 members of the House Bipartisan Coalition sent a signed letter to the governor, also urging action.
“Our commitment remains for the House to ratify continuation of the disaster declaration,” the letter said. “While we continue to assert the Legislature ultimately holds the authority to address ongoing disasters, we also acknowledge the critical nature of continuing the disaster declaration.”
In speaking to two Alaska Senate committees on Wednesday, Crum said the state stood to lose $8 million in federal funding for emergency food stamps if the declaration expired.
A federal funding loss would also impact COVID-19 response efforts such mass vaccination clinics and vaccine distribution as well as telemedicine.
Fairbanks Daily Newsminer contributed to this report