Dunleavy on Trump’s May 1 reopening goal: ‘We’re going to be charting our own course’

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference about COVID-19 on April 14, 2020. (Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that while President Donald Trump has told governors they could begin reopening their states by May 1, Alaska will relax restrictions and resume businesses on its own terms. 

“We’re going to be charting our own course that works for Alaska and keeps Alaska healthy, but gets us back to opening up society as soon as we possibly can,” Dunleavy said during the state’s daily COVID-19 news conference on Thursday.

Dunleavy said he wants the state to return to as close to normal as possible, but Alaskans should know some things will be different:

•  There may continue to be restrictions at nursing homes, which house some of the Alaskans who are most vulnerable to serious illness from the coronavirus. 

•  There will be long-term changes in hygiene, including more frequent hand washing and surface cleanings, and wearing face masks. 

•  People should continue to stay at least 6 feet away from those not in their households.

Dunleavy said it will be key for the state to guard against potential outbreaks in rural communities without hospitals or doctors.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Alaskans should also consider using a cell phone app or notebook to log what they’re doing and who they’re interacting with. Zink said the log could help public health workers trace contacts when people become infected with the virus.

“Say that you may have been exposed and our team calls you and says, ‘Hi, we’re worried that you were a close contact, can you help explain what’s been happening,’” Zink said. “Or maybe you unfortunately do turn positive for COVID and our team talks to you and says, ‘Can you help us outline what the last couple days or the last couple weeks look like in your history?’”

Related: Meet the team of Alaskans trying to trace and contain every case of COVID-19

Zink also highlighted that the number of Alaskans testing positive has been trending down, allowing the state to project further improvement in the future.  

“This really just shows that Alaskans have the ability to change the shape of this disease, and (it’s) part of the reason why we’re like, ‘OK, let’s see what things we can safely start to move and to open up,’” Zink said. 

A screenshot of Alaska’s cumulative COVID-19 cases by day as of April 15. (Chart by the Department of Health and Social Services)

At the news conference, Dunleavy announced seven new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 300 cases across about two dozen communities by midnight Wednesday.

The newly-diagnosed Alaskans include the first confirmed case from Kodiak, plus four from Anchorage and two from Juneau. The Juneau cases are an employee in his 20s at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center and a girl under age 10.

About 37% of Alaskans diagnosed with the disease have recovered. The state reported no new deaths by the end of the day Wednesday, and one more hospitalization. 

More than 8,700 tests have been administered, and Zink said Alaska continues to build its testing capacity.

Dunleavy’s administration announced it’s first mandate easing restrictions on Wednesday. It allows health care facilities to provide services that require minimal protective equipment starting Monday. Dunleavy did not provide further details on Thursday about what else he plans to reopen and when.

“We are beginning to open up sectors of the economy,” he said. “We want to do this as quick as possible but it’s very important that I reiterate, not at the expense of the health of Alaskans.”

Read all of Alaska Public Media’s coronavirus coverage here.

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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