Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced Senate Bill 56 on Jan. 25 to extend Alaska’s public health disaster declaration another six months. Alaska first declared a public health disaster last March. Dunleavy’s proposed extension, if passed by the Legislature, would mean Alaska would be in disaster mode for more than 16 months, from March 2020 to Sept. 2021.
Dunleavy’s bill allows for him to continue issuing orders, proclamations and regulations aimed at dealing with COVID. It also states that he could end the emergency declaration if the state’s commissioner of health deems that there is no longer a “present outbreak” of COVID or a “credible threat of imminent outbreak.”
COVID cases have dropped steadily over the past two months and are now at Oct. 2020 levels. Statewide, there are only 47 people hospitalized with the virus as of Jan. 25, and roughly half of hospital beds are unused.
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In addition to allowing the state to continue to spend federal disaster money on COVID related issues, the bill allows for a continued suspension of many laws and regulations pertaining to professional licenses, permits and certification in a number of sectors. It also allows health providers more leeway regarding telemedicine and lets shareholders and nonprofits continue to meet telephonically to conduct annual business.
“Extending the public health disaster until the end of September 2021 allows the state’s ongoing response to be able to have the tools and resources need to help Alaskans,” said Governor Dunleavy. “This bill includes a number of important provisions to protect the public and economic health of Alaskan residents during this unprecedented public health emergency period.”
The existing public health disaster declaration expires on February 15, 2021. Only the Alaska Legislature can extend the public health disaster beyond 30 days. The full text for SB 56 can be found here.