One thing Alaskans want to know from the governor is how long. Is it 30 days? Is it two more weeks? Is it August?
As Alaskans grapple with their deeply diminished lives in this Year of COVID-19, they’ve done their part to flatten the curve. Fewer than 250 known cases of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed, and seven deaths are reported in Alaska to date. Across the state, 27 have been hospitalized for serious effects from the coronavirus.
It is a serious illness for some, to be sure, but many Alaskans suspect that they’ve had the coronavirus themselves, had not been diagnosed, and were only mildly impacted — a sniffly nose, a dry cough. The death rate is being bent downward as medical professionals learn more about the disease and as the public practices social distancing.
And yet in a few short weeks, from March 12 until April 9, our state economy is in shambles. Record numbers of Alaskans have filed for unemployment benefits, many more cannot pay for their health insurance any longer. It appears the economic consequences will be long-reaching.
It’s worse than just not having a job or health insurance:
People cannot get even medical care for urgent problems, too numerous to list here, but including serious conditions that keep them from living their best lives:
Case: A reader of MRAK has a cancerous cyst and a history of cancer of the same type. His doctor tells him he must wait 72 days to have the surgical procedure to remove this cyst. He is worried, rightfully so, because he has children at home.
Case: A woman with a prolapsed pelvic floor cannot have it repaired. Her organs are literally falling out of her. She uses a prosthesis to keep them in.
Case: A child with serious eye condition may become blind in one eye because the ophthalmologists are closed.
Case: A woman has compressed nerves coming out of her spine and is in agony, but cannot get surgery. Her doctors are giving her nerve blocks to help, but they only do so much.
Case: Women are delaying their mammograms because many mammography centers are closed; others will not perform mammograms for women over 50.
Case: Alaska Urological Institute has filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules.
Case: MRAK has learned there are medical practices on the Kenai Peninsula on the verge of closing, and yet the hospital beds on the Kenai are empty, waiting for COVID-19 patients.
Case: Nurses are being sent home without pay. They aren’t being furloughed, so they can’t apply for unemployment, but they can’t work either.
Case: A business owner whose tourism business has closed for the year cancelled his health insurance because federal money is not coming fast enough to help him. He’ll have to do without for the rest of the year.
The stories are pouring into Must Read Alaska every day, and they all are individual tragedies.
Alaskans are ready to go back to work, and it’s time for the Administration to open the economy back up — with fewer mandates and more advisories. The governor can advise that people wear cloth masks, wash their hands, avoid shaking hands this year, and try to get distance from others. He can recommend that people not gather in groups larger than 10 or 20, and that families take precautions when going about their lives.
But if we don’t get our economy back on its feet, there are real health consequences that will be felt. There will be divorces, suicides, sicknesses treated too late, domestic violence, and bankruptcies. The health impacts could be far greater than the deaths from COVID-19 in Alaska.
At the very least, Alaskans need to know how much is enough for them to sacrifice. Is it when Alaska has zero cases per day? Are 25 cases a day too many?
The lives Alaskans are now leading, at least in the major commercial centers, is no way to live for an extended period of time. Patience is wearing thin for a shutdown of society that is both open-ended and that appears to be picking winners and losers in the marketplace.
By April 11, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will have to decide if the state is still in a state of emergency. Will he extend the declaration? How long and what parts of his mandates can be relaxed?
These are not rhetorical questions. The private sector cannot take much more.