Win Gruening: Can we stop playing political football with Covid-19 mandates?



Alaskans deserve better than the way politics continues to undermine our response to Covid-19. The steady drumbeat of divisive rhetoric prevalent on social media and newspaper opinion pages is getting shrill.  The message being sent, mostly by long-time public detractors of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, is that the governor hasn’t taken rising Covid-19 cases seriously enough. 

These critics ignore the fact that Alaska’s death rate from Covid-19 continues to rank among the lowest in the country, and almost all our vulnerable elderly residents are vaccinated.  Refusing to acknowledge these facts reinforces the suspicions many Alaskans have about the motives behind government mandates.

When the COVID-19 virus first became commonplace in early 2020, Gov. Dunleavy took unprecedented measures.  In declaring a disaster, he allowed state government to suspend laws and regulations, mandate testing, and restrict how we go about our business and daily lives. 

The goal of these measures, designed to be short term, was clear and simple: Alaskans needed to buy time for our healthcare resources to meet this unique health threat, and to “bend the curve” of infections so that our safety net was not overwhelmed. While major disaster declarations have historically been issued statewide for a variety of natural disasters, they have been used only sparingly in a public health context.

Alaskans enjoy very strong individual constitutional rights, with greater personal liberties than provided in the United States Constitution. To curtail Alaskans’ rights, even slightly, risks executive power over-reach and erodes public trust in government.

We’ve all seen how carelessly crafted policies subjected citizens to whipsawing lockdowns and mandates that drove thousands of people into unemployment. Businesses were ruined and a mental health emergency ensued in our school-aged population.

Ironically, in 2020, the most ardent promoters of Covid-19 mandates looked the other way while unmasked protests across the country morphed into ugly riots, replete with looting, assaults, and death.  Apparently, they believed health and safety threats only exist when traveling, shopping, or attending school or church – not during mass demonstrations.

Thankfully, Alaska’s protests were peaceful, but those demonstrations fueled the contention that some government leaders were more interested in political messaging than public health.  After all, we were told that the racism being protested was a more severe threat to the public health than the global COVID pandemic.

Which brings us to the present. Undeniably, some hospitals statewide are struggling. Rising hospitalizations have caused reduced medical service levels in some communities. However, hospital administrators publicly admit this is due to a combination of factors. Staffing shortages, particularly, have contributed to hospital capacity issues.

The rush to impose vaccine mandates in hospitals may make the problem worse, not solve it. Some healthcare workers may choose to resign or be fired rather than be forced to be vaccinated. Resignations in healthcare facilities around the country where vaccine mandates have been put in place are already taking a toll.

Furthermore, overly cautious or conflicting pandemic mandates tend to cause confusion.  Requiring vaccinated, masked individuals to socially distance, for instance, sends a subtle message that either the vaccine or wearing masks is ineffective.

It appears that the goal of mandate proponents is zero risk, which is neither possible nor expected anywhere else in our society.  Tens of thousands of people die in car accidents each year.  But no one is proposing that we reduce speed limits or further curtail when and how vehicles can be driven.  Society has deemed driving to have acceptable risks. Why shut down our economy for risks that are significantly less (than driving) for most Alaskans?

Yes, Alaska is facing a challenge. But it’s a challenge that must be met with the correct tools – not State or Federal mandates and disaster declarations.

If the issue is hospital staffing, then increase recruiting, cut the red tape, and get workers employed faster. If people can receive healthcare at home through telemedicine, let’s change the law to allow it. The Governor put proposals in front of lawmakers addressing both of these issues.  

In Alaska, the growing use of monoclonal antibody therapy coupled with one of the most accessible vaccination programs in the entire country will also serve to reduce the pressure on hospitalizations.  

And for those whose patience is wearing thin with the unvaccinated, there seems to be little recognition that we are edging ever closer to “herd immunity.”  

Actual Covid cases, according to health officials, are probably a minimum of two to three times what is being reported and confirmed through testing.  Alaska’s total confirmed cases, which were around 46,000 at the beginning of 2021, have since doubled.  The vast majority of these were unvaccinated individuals meaning that it’s likely that over 100,000 Alaskans have acquired a natural level of immunity in addition to those that were vaccinated during the same period.

We can take our current health challenge seriously without resorting to exaggeration or demonizing people. With viable alternatives on the table, there’s no good reason why Governor Dunleavy’s measures haven’t been adopted.

Unless the concern over Covid-19 is more about politics than common sense. 

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening began writing op-eds for local and statewide media. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations and currently serves on the board of the Alaska Policy Forum.

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    • Haha. Correct. In the age of the over socialized and under informed, treating things with civility, integrity, wisdom and maturity is too much to ask.

    • I agree. Surrendering liberties that will never be returned is not a game. We dont even know for sure how many have died since they include motorcycle accidents etc. My niece was pronounced brain dead after suffering from a heart attack during cpr administered after she chocked on a piece of food. A case worker came in and pressured us to say she was exposed to covid at some point. I had to ask him to leave 3 times. The 3rd time I stood up and he left. It took 10 days to get them to sign the death certificate. Yeah I’m done with the government bribing hospitals to inflate numbers, flip flopping on everything, extending the 15 day lockdown indefinitely etc. Then they lie about wars and everything else and never admit it much less apologize. Remember the Pentagon Papers? 56,000 Americans died for absolutely no reason at all and Republicans and Democrats were both responsible.

  1. Oh Mr. Gruening, you are much too sensible! The vaxed vs unvaxed can’t quite see their way clear to think with such logic. Thank you for your sensibility!

  2. Sorry, Win; no crisis goes to waste anymore. Like the climate crises since the first Earth Day in 1970, which has evolved from the coming ice age to nuclear winter to global warming to the now blanket “climate change”, covid will be with us in a never ending string of variants for the rest of our lives, and then some. This is a combination of biological warfare with psychological and information warfare. We don’t even seem to have the basic common sense to fire Dr. Faucistein (who should be criminally prosecuted for crimes against humanity), one of the mad scientists who helped finance the creation of this monster. Unfortunately, this sick society doesn’t even appear to be close to figuring out that we’re in a war with more battle fronts than we can even count. We still have a long descent ahead of us………..

  3. I find it funny that they will not state a level for herd immunity on this disease. Measles is 95% and Polio is 80%. Experts only say between 70 and 90% on Covid, so we should realistically be there. Lets go with the numbers the state gives us.
    Vaccinated : 1 dose 378,000 2 doses 345,000 (57%)
    Positive test : 95,000 (13%)
    Result: 70% without adding in cases where people did not get a test.
    Nobody is talking about this because it is not convenient and would break their fear porn. If we add in the people that likely had it and never got tested we go over 80%, if we figure that only half of the people that got Covid got tested and possibly over 90% if we are being realistic with the 1/3 being tested. So, we are at herd immunity.

  4. Mr. Gruening is a sensible sort of man however the trouble is he hasn’t real or sensible facts at his disposal regarding the subject at hand. From the reliance upon tests to the myth of the effectiveness of the so called vaccines. The problem stems from the fact that there has never been transparency in reporting about this ” pandemic” coming from the Government or anyone of the Alphabet organizations. In answer to the question posed in the title of his article one must realize that this crisis is political at its core. It was designed to be so. So no, it is not possible, the tyrants will not stop playing politics here. Their power and continuance of their power is at stake.

    It is up to the individual to make informed decisions about their own healthcare. Heavy handed mandates for a treatment that has proven to be ineffective at best and perhaps even harmful are not the answer. Thankfully there are treatments other then those prescribed in these mandates. Do some honest research while you can and make your own decisions.

  5. Our fellow patriot, Win, astutely says, “Refusing to acknowledge these facts reinforces the suspicions many Alaskans have about the motives behind government mandates.” However, in context, it appears Win is trying to assume the role of unbiased arbiter…. admonishing the government to respect the position of skeptics. Sadly, I predict Win will eventually agree that attempts to reason with this government are futile. For real hope to exist, the government must first be changed fundamentally. Before that happens, our corrupted election system must first be cleansed and straightened out. We’ve got lots of work to do.

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