Alaska healthcare professionals frustrated about inaction, incivility around COVID-19

woman in lab coat and mask stands at podium with others behind her.
Dr. Leslie Gonsette, at podium, was among the health care workers who spoke at the Anchorage Assembly meeting Setp. 13. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

More than 300 Alaska doctors and other medical professionals, who are frustrated about inaction and incivility around COVID-19, signed an open letter this week asking people to think of what’s best for their fellow Alaskans and consider getting vaccinated.

The letter signers also say they stand in solidarity with their colleagues who spoke at an Anchorage Assembly meeting earlier this month, after their impassioned testimony was met with jeers and denials.

Family medicine physician Dr. Robin Ninefeldt wrote the letter and says that meeting convinced her those on the front lines of the pandemic need more support.

And as the Anchorage Assembly hears from the public Tuesday on a proposed mask mandate, Ninefeldt says she’s worried about how opponents will treat those speaking in favor.

Read a full transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.

Robin Ninefeldt: It boggles the mind. And it’s really actually disappointing to be in a room full of medical professionals who have chosen to help others. And to have those same people standing feet away calling us liars. ‘Charlatan’ was another name that was used. And I think that we’ve moved to a place where we’re not seeing one another as humans.

I think we’ve forgotten what it is we’re fighting, and we’re mistakenly fighting one another.

Casey Grove: There have been these personal appeals from doctors and others to try to get people to mask up and to get vaccinated. But do you think that stuff those personal appeals are doing anything to change what vaccine skeptics or COVID deniers are saying and thinking?

Robin Ninefeldt: I’m hoping so. Of course, there are always going to be people who are on the fringes no matter what the topic is. But what other choice do we have, except to keep the conversation going, to have an open dialogue? People become excited in their conspiracy theories and we need to combat that with truth. But also a reminder that we are all — every single one of us, your physicians included — human beings.

Casey Grove: A lot of this, as I’ve seen it, is in response to really just simply asking people to wear masks to get vaccinated, and then also in response to the real-life stories that doctors are telling about this virus. So I wondered, could you describe your experience as a doctor and dealing with COVID-19?

Robin Ninefeldt: My experience has been a little bit different. As I travel the state, I see it on ground level in smaller villages where all it takes is one positive case, and it spreads like wildfire.

The village just Stebbins is a perfect example. They have had two really severe surges, one of which was traced back to a single exposure due to travel. And I believe they had 59 cases in no time. I’m not sure how many people have had the awesome opportunity to be in the real bush, but there’s no running water, there’s no sewer in every home. People live in small tight settings. And it’s very easy in a multi-generational home to have a baby and the grandma sick at the same time.

I personally know a young gentleman who lost his life because the health aide clinic ran out of a supply of oxygen. That’s a reality. And when I talk with my colleagues who are in the ICU, you’re dealing with the people doing your very best to keep them alive through supportive therapies, watching them pass away, watching families literally erupt into screams in tears because it is tragic to have someone taken from you so quickly.

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at Read more about Casey here

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