‘Staged approach’: Some elective medical procedures in Alaska will restart next week

Katie Church, an RN at Bartlett Regional Hospital, demonstrates putting on personal protective equipment to handle a patient infected with COVID-19 on Monday, April 7, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Elective medical procedures will be reintroduced in Alaska in steps, with some services that require minimal protective equipment restarting on Monday, April 20.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state health officials announced a new health mandate allowing more health care services at a briefing on Wednesday.

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State Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said health care providers must keep social distancing where possible and minimize the use of personal protective equipment.

“It’s a staged approach, making sure that PPE is being conserved, that individuals understand the importance of maintaining alternative methods of care — be it telehealth or videoconferencing services — and the importance of physical barriers, and limiting the number of people in the workplace,” Crum said.

The mandate would allow a wider range of elective procedures starting on May 4. For procedures that put health care workers at risk of exposure to the coronavirus, patients would have to have a negative test result for the virus within 48 hours of the procedure.

Visitors to health care facilities will be restricted to end-of-life visits; a parent of a minor; a support person for labor and delivery; and a spouse or caregiver that lives with the patient on the day of a procedure. If a caregiver doesn’t live with the patient, they can be with the patient when they’re discharged.

State officials have said increased testing capacity and supplies of protective equipment allowed for the change. Dunleavy said the economic impact of suspending elective procedures and the need to keep health care providers in the state also factored into the decision.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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