As state health officials outline plan to help overloaded hospitals, Dunleavy asks Alaskans to consider the vaccine

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses the state of the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference at the Atwood Building in Anchorage on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. It was the governor’s first news conference about COVID-19 in months. (Matthew Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Thursday a series of steps intended to help hospitals deal with a surge of COVID-19 cases.

They include speeding up the process for allowing licensed health care providers to work in hospitals. The state is also looking to use federally-contracted workers to temporarily staff hospitals, Dunleavy said during a news conference.

Dunleavy said health care workers have been working long hours. And he said he’s hopeful that if Alaskans are careful and take other steps to reduce the strain on hospitals, the current surge in cases will peak and then drop over the next month.

RELATED: Alaska reports highest daily COVID-19 count since December as Dunleavy warns about hospital capacity

State Division of Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg urged Alaskans to consider wearing masks around others and keeping their social circles small. She also said monoclonal antibodies are available to treat those who contract COVID-19. Those are man-made antibodies that act like human antibodies in the immune system.

Dunleavy urged Alaskans to talk with healthcare providers about getting COVID-19 vaccines, as part of an effort to reduce the strain on hospitals.

“I strongly urge folks to get a vaccination. Talk to their doctor first. But seriously consider doing that, because it’s the tool that we have at this time that really makes an impact,” he said.

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Heidi Hedberg, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services public health director. (Matthew Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

He also said people should be able to make up their own minds on the vaccines.

“I believe in conversations with the people of Alaska — that those that have been waiting and waiting for FDA approval, for Pfizer, waiting to have conversations with their health care providers, talking with their friends and family — I believe that that’s what’s going to make a difference, a bigger difference than having a governor mandate that somebody take a vaccination.”

Along with opposing mandates, Dunleavy also rejected using more forceful language to urge vaccinations.

“This isn’t some place in Europe in 1939. You have conversations with folks. There’s mass media that’s telling everyone where they can get vaccinations and how the vaccinations work or don’t work for some folks. You have conversations with your doctors. You have conversations with your friends,” he said.

Dunleavy defended his approach, saying that he’s publicly described why he chose to be vaccinated after becoming ill with COVID-19.

“People aren’t stupid. They aren’t. They’re making a decision — this is true — but they’re making a decision I hope in consultation with their doctors,” he said.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. (Matthew Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink noted the fast spread of the COVID-19 delta variant.

“Together, we determine where this pandemic goes,” she said, adding that there’s been a 24-percent increase in vaccinations so far this week compared with the same time period last week.

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

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