JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked residents to do “everything possible” to help address what he called an “escalating crisis” of rising COVID-19 cases in a message sent over the state’s emergency alert system Thursday.
The Republican said the next three weeks are critical. Hospitalizations and sick health care workers “are reaching untenable levels,” he said.
Officials have expressed concerns with hospital capacity and staffing as all regions of the state have fallen under a high-alert level, which the state health department defines as having widespread community transmission “with many undetected cases and frequent discrete outbreaks.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the department has reported about 20,690 confirmed resident cases of COVID-19; most of those, 14,080, are considered active cases. The state has reported 96 deaths related to COVID-19.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.
Dunleavy did not issue a statewide mask mandate, calls for which he has resisted. But he asked that masks be worn when maintaining distance from non-household members is not possible. He encouraged businesses and local governments that can operate with staff remotely to allow employees to work from home, and people to shop online for curbside pickup if they can.
He said state employees are to work from home when possible and that masks and distancing are required at state work sites.
“My job as governor is not to tell you how to live your life. My job is to ensure the security and safety of Alaska. I can’t do that without your help,” he said. “I’m asking each and every one of you to reach deep for the next three weeks. If we can buy time for our critical workers, if we can keep our systems operational, we can avoid being forced to take further action.”
The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, on Twitter, thanked Dunleavy for sharing the message.
Others criticized the message as lacking in substance.
Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said Dunleavy offered “nothing new” in his comments. “To me, it was an abuse of an emergency alert statewide system,” he said.
Jeff Turner, a Dunleavy spokesperson, said the governor used the emergency messaging system “to reach the largest number of Alaskans possible instantaneously.”
“He is mindful of the fact that not all Alaskans utilize social media or news on a regular basis and felt compelled to reach out to Alaskans in the most direct way possible to urge action to keep Alaskans safe,” Turner said by email.
A link to Dunleavy’s video message was sent via the system as an emergency alert.
Governors and agencies in other parts of the country have used emergency contact systems in their states to draw attention to mandates or precautions meant to guard against the virus’ spread.