JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will chart its own course in deciding how to reopen parts of the economy restricted or shut down over concerns with the coronavirus.
“We’ll continue to look at this through the lens of Alaska and what Alaska needs,” the Republican said late Thursday, noting unique aspects of the state, including isolated communities that lack the health care infrastructure of other places.
Dunleavy said the state continues to build up its testing capacity, and its chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, has said that testing — and testing broadly — will be important as the state weighs easing restrictions.
State officials have announced plans to lift in phases restrictions on health care activities, a process that includes calls for testing ahead of certain procedures and testing to the extent possible of patients admitted to facilities such as hospitals and long-term care centers.
President Donald Trump released guidelines Thursday for easing business restrictions that in part call for a downward trajectory of positive tests or documented cases within a 14-day period.
Dunleavy, a Trump ally, said the state has been looking at its data and would chart a course that “gets us back to opening up society as soon as we possibly can, again, without risking the health of Alaskans.”
The state has reported at least 309 cases of COVID-19, with nine deaths related to the disease so far. Of the reported cases, the state said 128 people have recovered.
While the state has loosened its testing criteria, Zink this week said testing seemed to have plateaued. She said flu is down and believed respiratory illnesses in general are down so people aren’t having symptoms like fevers. She also said people are staying home and that COVID-19 can be a hard diagnosis.
“Significant limitations” in testing capacity and capabilities early on also could have played a role, she said. “There is residual, kind of, ‘It was really hard for me a week ago, I’m sure it’s going to be hard now,'” Zink said Thursday.
On Friday, Zink said she would like to see more testing, including by hospitals. Hospitals in Alaska haven’t been able to secure chemicals known as reagents the way many hospitals in the Lower 48 have, an issue the state has pressed at the federal level, she said.
The state’s testing rates as of early Friday afternoon — 12.81 tests per 1,000 people __ was higher than the national rate of 10.82, according to an analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project by The Associated Press. More than half the states had rates below the national level.
Zink has said work within the state to produce testing supplies has helped with a tight national supply chain.