To require 14 days of quarantine or not to require 14 days of quarantine — that is the question state officials might answer today. While many of the state’s COVID-19 health mandates have been rolled back as Alaska re-opens for business, the mandate requiring arrivals to the state to self-isolate for two weeks is in effect until June 2. That requirement is particularly challenging for Alaska’s tourism industry.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a virtual town hall Thursday, said state officials are trying to balance public health with easing impacts to the economy.
“We’re working on some protocols to be able to try to have some outside folks come to Alaska to help with the very business that we’re talking about today that are seasonal, that are tourist-related, fishing-related, etc. We’re going to do our best to this thread this needle where we keep Alaskans safe but also try to get our economy back up off its knees,” Dunleavy said.
The governor said he is planning an announcement today on the future of the 14-day requirement, which is set to expire Tuesday.
The House State Affairs and Health and Social Services committees heard testimony on the topic Wednesday. Dr. Andy Elsberg is an emergency physician at Providence in Anchorage and has helped guide the hospital’s COVID clinical care.
He says the 14-day quarantine has played a big role in the relatively low COVID numbers in Alaska, compared to the rest of the country.
“I completely agree that that self-isolation order has had a great impact on limiting the amount of disease burden that we have in the state, both people coming in and people who are here traveling and coming back,” Elsberg said.
In talking to state medical director Dr. Anne Zink, Elsberg said one of the options being considered is a step-down approach — requiring seven days of isolation followed by a test.
“Most people who contract COVID will show symptoms within seven days," he said. "That should be about 90 percent. So if you have someone who is isolated for seven days, has no symptoms and then you test them for asymptomatic, you’re likely screening out 90 to 95 percent of those possibly having the disease.”
But Elsberg says self-isolation isn’t as effective as it could be. The state isn’t enforcing the mandate and, with a lack of personnel, isn’t doing a great job even communicating its necessity.
“There are people that are aware of that and are taking it to heart and self-isolating. And there are plenty of people who either don’t even know it exists or are ignoring it,” he said.
He told the committees that, if the state is going to remove or step down the quarantine requirement, there needs to be better controls in place to prevent a surge in new COVID cases.
"Before we drop this requirement, we need to be very thoughtful. Can we set up rapid testing for every arrival? Can we do that without creating a bottleneck where people can’t distance? Can we require a seven-day isolation and then a test? Can we get rid of exemptions for essential workers — exemptions that are being exploited inappropriately at times and replace them with seven days and then a test? You can’t have a safe tourism industry without a coordinated plan that involves public health and industry working together to keep our state safe from importing a lot more disease burden,” he said.
The governor hasn’t said when to expect a decision on quarantine rules other than it should be sometime today.
Today’s number is 48,000 — that’s how many COVID-19 tests have been conducted in Alaska, to date. Wednesday was one of the highest test days so far as the state attempts to ramp up more testing capacity as health mandates are stepped down. The Department of Health and Social Services confirmed 13 new cases of COVID-19 in Alaska on Thursday, with 7 of those being on the Kenai Peninsula.