The Chief Justice of Alaska’s Supreme Court ordered that all court cases in which the state forces people into mandatory isolation due to COVID-19 be sealed from the public.
Chief Justice Joel Bolger issued the order on May 26 to comply with a law passed by the Alaska Legislature. The order also applies to any case in which the state seeks to forcibly test, examine, screen or isolate Alaskans in order to limit the spread of the virus.
The law passed by the Legislature enables court proceedings to give the Department of Health and Social Services powers to prevent the spread of disease. A number of local governments have enacted similar provisions.
Since state law excludes the public from these court proceedings, unless the person elects to have an open hearing, the court adopted its regulations to protect the privacy of Alaskans who are brought into court on COVID-19 containment cases.
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“The public interest in disclosure of court records in these proceedings is outweighed by the privacy interests of the respondents and the department’s legitimate interest in public safety,” Bolger’s order states.
It adds that “all court records in court proceedings … and under municipal, borough, or other local government provisions addressing testing, examination, isolation, and/or quarantine of individuals to prevent the spread of a contagious disease shall be confidential records…”
While the state has authority to forcibly quarantine Alaskans, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has repeatedly said that he is relying on the good will and voluntary cooperation of residents to address the pandemic. This strategy has resulted in extremely low numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus.
As of May 27, there were only 38 active coronavirus cases in Alaska and just 14 current hospitalizations. On May 22, the state rescinded nearly all its health mandates and replaced them with advisories. State health officials are continuing to monitor case counts as the state reopens.