Today (March 9) at 3 p.m., the State House is holding a public hearing to address House Bill 76 , which would extend Alaska’s COVID disaster declaration until Sept. 30 of this year.
The previous declaration expired nearly a month ago, on Feb. 14, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy will not issue another extension without the Legislature’s approval.
Two days before the declaration expired, Dunleavy released a statement saying, “In the absence of a declaration, my administration is fully prepared to manage the rollout and distribution of the vaccine to ensure anyone that wants a vaccination will be able to get one. We will also continue to respond to COVID-19 as we begin the process of getting back to normal as soon as possible by focusing on the economy and assisting Alaskans in staying healthy.”
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Since the declaration ended Alaska has continued to operate its COVID-19 response under the same guidance and direction that had previously been provided, which includes all prior waived or suspended statutes and regulations. Likewise, the Dept. of Health & Social Services has continued to manage its Medicaid program under the federal authorities outlined in the federal blanket waivers, since those authorities are tied to the federal public health emergency and are not dependent on a state declaration.
With the declaration’s expiration all statewide mandates and travel restrictions have become voluntary. Those advocating that the declaration be extended say there are numerous questions about whether federal blanket waivers for operational flexibilities in health care settings are still valid in Alaska.
The effort to revive the disaster declaration comes at a time when COVID case counts are in steady decline and only 27 COVID positive patients are currently hospitalized across the state.
A public hearing is set for HB 76 at 3 p.m., March 9, in the House Health & Social Services Committee. To testify, call (907) 563-9085 (from Anchorage), (907) 586-9085 (from Juneau) or (844) 586-9085 (outside Juneau or Anchorage).