Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Congressman, Senators join Governor on press conference to address COVID 19

Gov. Mike Dunleavy welcomed Congressman Don Young and Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan on Monday’s press conference to discuss the state’s response to the outbreak of COVID 19.

Dunleavy announced that five more Alaskans had tested positive for COVID 19 since the last online report on the Department of Health and Social Services website on Sunday. Of the five new cases, two each were discovered in Anchorage and Fairbanks and the last positive case was found in Palmer. Palmer has all three Mat-Su Valley cases, with two people testing positive on March 17 and another on March 27. Of the three Palmer cases, two are considered travel related and one person was in close contact with someone else who had tested positive for COVID 19.

“We are looking to Alaskans to self police at this point and what we’ve seen so far is actually pretty good. We’re doing a pretty good job here in Alaska,” said Dunleavy on Friday.

Dunleavy issued Health Mandates 11 and 12 on Friday, enacting social distancing as a mandate and limiting in-state travel except for critical personal needs or jobs in critical infrastructure. Dunleavy’s travel restriction went into effect on Saturday at 8 a.m. and his social distancing mandate went into effect at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Since he last spoke to the media on Friday, 34 more people in Alaska tested positive for COVID 19. A total of two Alaskans have died from complications due to COVID 19.

“I really appreciate the partnership across the state to get people tested because we want to have a good sense of where these outbreaks are happening so we can work with the local communities and our epi team to be able to respond and help to slow down that spread as much as possible,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink on Monday. “The work that Alaskans are doing has made a tremendous difference and we continue to build up that health care capacity.”

Zink shared positive news on Monday that 60 new ventilators had arrived and were being tested in preparation to be distributed throughout the state. As of Monday evening, a total of 3,713 Alaskans had been tested for COVID 19 and only 119 have tested positive. The cumulative number of commercial testes completed passed the number performed by the state lab last Wednesday, with the highest number of tests completed in one day coming on March 23 with 550 tests completed by commercial facilities.

 “The effort here is to keep the wheels on the bus for this period as we work toward eliminating or eradicating, certainly containing this virus and then working on healing our economy,” said Murkowski.

Alaska’s Federal delegation each explained portions of the CARES act that passed congress 96-0. Young detailed the support available to families with $1,200 per adult, $500 per child and a $2,400 family limit as well as an increase to unemployment benefits. The deadline for taxes has been extended to July 21 and Real ID requirements postponed until 2021. Young also said that student loan payment forgiveness was included in the bill.

“It’s a good package for Alaskans,” said Young. “We have done well on this bill. I’m quite pleased with what it’s going to be able to do with Alaska.”

Sullivan detailed some separate portions of the bill, saying that Alaskan families would be able to access cash quickly. Small business relief and relief for broader sectors like airlines was also included. Sullivan explained a $350 billion paycheck protection for small businesses where the loan will become a grant if funds are used for qualified expenses and added that $300 million was set aside specifically for fishermen.

“We have such a huge challenge, health challenge, economic challenge to our state and our country that it’s our role from the federal side to bring to bear as many resources as we can,” said Sullivan. “We think this is a very important way to keep employers and their employees, particularly our small businesses connected.”

Murkowski spoke about an education stabilization fund and state stabilization fund that will provide $1.25 billion to each state to battle coronavirus impacts. Murkowski also said that grants for firefighters and first responders were available and $8 million had been set aside for tribal measures. Murkowski said that assistance was set aside for Domestic Violence shelters and behavioral and mental health and substance abuse. Murkowski said that she believed there would be additional push from lawmakers in Washington., D.C. to provide additional funding, and her fellow senator agreed.

“I think there will be an appetite in the congress to continue to bring as many resources as possible to Alaskans to their fellow americans. This bill in the senate passed 96-0. Every senator, democrat or republican voted for it so there’s a strong appetite to do more if we need to do more ,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan added to what Young had discussed about unemployment insurance, saying that $250 billion had been set aside for that purpose. Sullivan also began to predict a fourth phase of response, looking for legislation to turbo charge the economy farther down the road. Congressman Young was questioned about his comments at a joint meeting of the Palmer and Wasilla Chambers of Commerce at the Mat-Su Senior Services building on March 13 first reported by the Frontiersman and denied having ever made those statements.

“No, I didn’t say that number one. Number two,I probably would've voted for it but that was the very beginning of the pandemic and there was a lot of questions about it then,” said Young. “We can go back in history and decide what’s been said and what has not been said but now we’re facing this, I call a classic problem and we’re handling it very well with the Governor and with the other two senators and the body as a whole. We’re solving the problems of Alaska now and we’ll continue to do that.”

By:  Tim Rockey
Source: Mat-Su Valley Fontiersman