Tackling the outbreak of COVID-19 is like trying to construct a spaceship while flying it, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, told reporters at a press conference in Anchorage Wednesday.
Zink spoke at a press conference alongside Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and joined by phone by a number of health care officials from around the state.
“We have to be proactive and reactive at the same time,” Zink said. “If we don’t see things slow down there’s no way we can keep up our health care capacity.”
Also joining the conference from Atlanta was Dr. Jay Butler, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Butler previously served as the state’s chief medical officer and held several other high-ranking positions in the DHSS.
Dunleavy and other officials spent over an hour answering questions from reporters regarding the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Zink and the governor repeated their suggestions that people use common sense, practice good hygiene and take other preventative measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Dunleavy and his administration have said they are resistant to mandating state-wide travel restrictions or shelter-in-place orders saying that personal action will be more effective than government regulations.
“This virus is not going to be stopped by any one of us. It’s going to be stopped by all of us working together,” Zink said. “We are trying really hard to explain the purpose and the reasoning of this. We are Alaskans. We pride ourselves on being free and independent in making those decisions.”
But the governor did say all options were on the table.
“We don’t know where this is going, we don’t know how long this will last,” Dunleavy said. “It’s not an exact science, what levers you pull and how and when. I think in Alaska we’re feeling OK that we’re pulling the levers we should but that could change at any moment.”
Butler said a potential vaccine for the disease was most likely 12-18 months away and that Alaska was focused on mitigating the spread of the virus, the so-called “flatten the curve” approach in reference to the state’s health care capacity.
However, Zink said was difficult to say what the state’s health care capacity is. She was not able to say exactly how many ventilators the state has because while the state does have some in its inventory, some are not in working condition or outdated. Ventilators, which assist lung function, are used in the treatment of people with COVID-19 who develop severe symptoms.
The state has been able to increase the number of tests it’s able to process.
The administration is reviewing various health mandates daily the governor said, and would consider a state-wide shelter-in-place order when the medical data suggested such a move was necessary.
“That is a trigger we absolutely have to pull,” Dunleavy said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.