Gov. Mike Dunleavy and several of his department commissioners announced new measures meant to help the state’s economy while businesses are shut down and thousands of people are out of work.
Dunleavy also announced 11 new cases of COVID-19 including two new hospitalizations with 616 Alaskans tested. The state’s total case count as of Friday evening was 157.
New recommendations to reduce transmission of the coronavirus were also shared.
People should wear a face covering while in public places such as grocery stores, said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. Face coverings can be made out of material found in the home, such as a bandana or a scarf, but should cover both the mouth and nose. Zink said this was an advisory and not a mandate.
The new advisory is meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic people who may be carrying the virus. Zink stressed the importance of maintaining social distancing and other mitigation methods and said covering the face would not prevent contracting the virus, but it will help limit any potential spread.
In the past week the Department of Labor and Workforce Development had processed more than 13,000 unemployment claims, according to Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter, which were putting a strain on the unemployment system, she said.
“We know this is causing a lot of anxiety and frustration,” Ledbetter said.
She said the department was hiring additional staff, transferring employees from other sections within the department and asking retirees to return to work to help process claims.
“Additional federal support will be in the hands of Alaskans very soon,” Ledbetter said.
Changes to the Alaska Care health care plan waived all of the costs related to treatment, testing and any other respiratory illness, even those unrelated to COVID-19, said Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka.
The Department of Natural Resources is some permit payments, said Corri Feige, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. Feige urged people to go to DNR’s website and not to come to any department offices.
The state is deploying multiple reimbursement programs for small businesses, Dunleavy said, and he encouraged owners to visit a newly created website, akgov.us/economy, which provides links to state aid programs.
The website is where small business owners could apply for the Paycheck Protection Program created by the federal CARES Act. That program provides loans to small businesses to cover costs related to payroll, rent, utilities and other costs. Those loans would be made through local lenders, said Commissioner Julie Anderson of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
The Department of Transportation and Public Facility was also waiving permits for overweight vehicles, said Commissioner John MacKinnon.
Cancellation fees on the Marine Highway System are being waived as well, MacKinnon said. Work continues at the Ketchikan shipyard, MacKinnon said, but because of staffing issues related to COVID-19, vessels scheduled to return to service on April 15 were now delayed to early May.
Given the rapid changes caused by the pandemic, there could be further delays, MacKinnon said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.