The state plans to lift restrictions on elective medical procedures in what Gov. Mike Dunleavy described Tuesday as an initial step toward reopening segments of the economy affected by concerns with the coronavirus.
State officials last week updated a mandate requiring non-urgent or elective procedures be canceled or postponed for three months. The update included surgical abortion under a section of surgeries that “could be delayed for a few weeks,” but made an exception if the woman’s life or physical health was endangered.
Some saw the inclusion of abortion in the list as political. The mandate stated the overall goal was to preserve protective equipment for health care workers and patient care supplies; ensure staff and patient safety and expand available hospital capacity.
More details on the plan were expected Wednesday, Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner said.
Dunleavy said the COVID-19 situation is fast-moving, and the state, through the mandate, had wanted to be cautious in its approach to conserve supplies and hospital space.
But, “We came to the conclusion that society, Alaska, is better off if we open up this sector sooner than later, monitor it and manage it well so that individuals are not getting sick,” he said of lifting restrictions on elective procedures.
The state constantly assesses what is happening with the virus, and it’s possible it may have to “throttle back” if it sees something concerning, he said.
He cautioned this is not a “full blown … everything is back to normal” situation. But he said the state feels good about where its numbers are.
“And it’s not like we’re rewarding ourselves. It’s more along the lines of, we’re doing the right thing and that we may have that capacity to start to open this economy a little more. Because we need to do that eventually, we all know that,” he said.
Dunleavy also announced Tuesday the state would allow people to order beer or wine with takeout or delivery meals from restaurants with liquor licenses.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
As the state looks to reopen segments of the economy, Dunleavy said Alaskans will need to continue doing such things as practicing social distancing and good hygiene and avoiding group settings and unnecessary travel.
He said Monday the state will work with communities, industry leaders and others as it makes decisions on how to proceed in reopening impacted sectors. He said key to this will be monitoring case numbers.
The health of Alaskans will be a top consideration, Dunleavy said, adding he doesn’t “want anyone to get the wrong idea that we’re going to put the economy ahead of the health of Alaskans. That’s not the case at all.”
As of Tuesday, Alaska reported 285 total cases of COVID-19, and nine deaths related to the coronavirus. The state’s data shows 98 recovered cases.
The state Department of Corrections said two additional staff members at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of positive cases of staff there to six. The department said tests on four inmates came back negative.