SitNews: Governor, Senator, & Ketchikan Officials Address Coronavirus Contingencies & Prepardedness

On the state level, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy submitted a supplemental budget amendment Monday to fund ten additional temporary positions within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) preparedness and response.

The governor's supplemental budget would provide the Alaska Division of Public Health with five new public health nurses, three nurse epidemiologists, one microbiologist in Fairbanks to assist with lab testing, and one emergency manager to assist in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). These positions will be based statewide and will be able to travel as needed to rural communities to help monitor and screen for COVID-19.

“The coordination and constant contact between our State departments, and our local, tribal, and Federal partners has been commendable. We have been preparing for the past month-and-a-half and are now looking to bolster our preparedness and response teams by adding these ten new temporary positions,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “Common sense protocols that would be applied to any flu or cold season will help Alaskans deal with potential illnesses we may see in the coming months.”

“DHSS is grateful for Governor Dunleavy’s involvement and attention to the COVID-19 response, and his support for this proactive approach. Throughout this response we have had continuous communication with other government agencies and key stakeholders including hospitals and medical providers,” said Adam Crum, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “To better protect the health of Alaskans from COVID-19, we have asked for these new resources and positions to fortify the DHSS EOC. This will allow public health nursing and epidemiology to have an increased presence around the state to help coordinate with local health care providers and many other partners statewide.”

“While we have not yet seen any cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, our Emergency Operations Center has been in operation for over a month and we continue to work with Public Health, including testing for the disease,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska Chief Medical Officer. “It’s important to remember that there are things we can to help protect ourselves, our families and our communities. Everyday measures, like those that prevent other respiratory illnesses like the flu and the common cold, also work to control the novel coronavirus.”

The governor's supplemental budget amendment would provide $4 million in state funds and allow for the receipt of $9 million in federal support for mitigation and response efforts.

On the local level, Ketchikan City and Borough representatives are working closely with State and local health care agencies to prepare for the evolving Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) threat. At of this date, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ketchikan.

City Mayor Bob Sivertsen says “local entities are monitoring this threat closely and adjusting as new State and Federal guidelines are released.”

Emergency response agencies have implemented updated 9-1-1 dispatch protocols based on Centers for Disease Control guidance, which means calls are now screened for potential Coronavirus.

PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center has reviewed its procedures, trained staff and is screening patients for COVID-19, according to the borough's news release.

Facilities with high public use, such as the Ketchikan Library, Transit, the Ketchikan International Airport, the Gateway Recreation and Aquatic Center, and Museum are reviewing and updating cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of germs. In light of the Novel Coronavirus threat, local officials in Ketchikan are working closely with Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska and Federal agencies in preparation for the upcoming tourist season.

Borough Mayor Rodney Dial is urging residents to make plans for Coronavirus.“You should do your part to prepare your household for a disruptive event, which will in turn allow government to focus on the needs of the vulnerable populations that have a diminished ability to prepare,” he said.

Dial said, “Ultimately the only thing I am sure of is that Ketchikan will face any future difficulties together and will be just fine.”

And today, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) participated in a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee focused on how the U.S. is responding to the emerging threat of COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus.

The Senate HELP Committee hearing highlighted how the U.S. federal government is responding to the outbreak and actions the administration is taking to ensure that the U.S. is prepared for, and responding to, COVID-19 at the federal, state, and local levels. The hearing delved into what we know about the virus, mitigation, and treatment - hearing from leaders in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

During the hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health explained the need to be prepared, while also not inciting unnecessary panic.

“It really has to do with what you consider relative risk and how that relates to the unknown. The thing about what’s going on now is that since it is a new virus, we don’t really know exactly where it’s going to go. If you look at the disease burden, morbidity and mortality, every single year influenza does a significant amount of health damage, not only to our country, but to the rest of the world,” Fauci said.

Dr. Fauci said, “The thing about influenza is that although there are many things about it that are unpredictable, we kind of know the bracket of how many people are going to get sick and how many people are going to die. It’s tragic. It’s death. It’s suffering. We don’t like but we kind of know, when you’re in the area of the unknown you have to walk a delicate balance on not overshooting and having panic but also not undershooting the situation where you don’t respond as aggressively as you should.”

Senator Murkowski directed a written question for the record for Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the supplemental appropriations package currently being prepared in response the COVID-19 emergency.

Murkowski asked, “Although there is debate from public health groups, Republicans, and Democrats, on the amount we need to appropriate to address this public health threat, my biggest concern is that the State of Alaska has the resources it needs to continue a sustainable response. We need to work together to ensure that Alaska has the funding to create quarantine facilities, invest in equipment, and invest in supplies for a sustained response. I also want to make sure that tribes and tribal organizations have access to supplemental funding and that our rural areas are prepared for a response.”

In Senator Murkowski’s question, she raised the issue that there are many unanswered questions surrounding supplemental funding for states, tribes, and tribal organizations to respond to COVID-19.

“My understanding is that by declaring a public health emergency under the Public Health Service Act, states have been instructed to reallocate funding from current CDC grants to respond to the virus. However, there are many unanswered questions surrounding this instruction. Is it practical or ethical to ask states to use funding that has already been allocated for this year to public health prevention programs, to be used for their response?” Murkowski questioned.

Quoting a release from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Businesses are encouraged to have sick employees to stay home and to prepare for high levels of absenteeism. Businesses can help curb the spread of illness by routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces and keeping soap and hand sanitizer on hand. Actions the KGB suggest that one may take to prepare and avoid illness include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes and mouth
  • Stay home and keep children home when sick until you and/or your child have been fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of medication
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of the tissue appropriately
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow if no tissue is available
  • Avoid other individuals who show signs of illness, including coughing or sneezing
  • Routinely clean frequently touched objects
  • If you think you have Coronavirus, call your doctor before seeking medical treatment
  • Ensure you have enough medicine and food for at least two weeks
  • Plan for a possibility of school closures and get to know your neighbors
  • Identify a room in your home to separate ill individuals from healthy
  • If you do fall ill and live alone, keep in touch with family and friends by phone

By:  Mary Kauffman
Source: SitNews