Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people arriving from out of state to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Sunday Hawaii Governor David Ing took the action for travelers headed there. 

“We are in a pandemic. We do have a virus. It is spreading across the globe, spreading across the country. It's here in Alaska,” said Dunleavy. “We didn't want to be here.”

But there has been a jump in the reported cases already. In the eleven days from March 12 to the 23rd, Alaska's caseload grew from one to 36. Four of the most recent cases were community acquired. That is, those individuals had no history of travel or any known contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. The confirmed cases are fairly evenly split among age groups between 19 and 60-plus.

"These are the times that Alaskans really shine. So we're going to get through this ...."  The country, the world will get through this, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said.

The governor said Alaska has had the benefit of watching to see how the disease is spread and how other states and nations handled it.

“Nothing so far surprises us. We know this is going to be a challenge for all of us. We're going to be tried, all of us, through this process. But … I think we have what it takes to overcome this virus and to deal with it.

“You'd be amazed at how many Alaskans are standing up asking what they can do,” Dunleavy said. “And as I said earlier, just small, small things like helping your neighbor, helping an elder, helping a senior, picking up medicine for folks, picking up groceries for folks, shoveling their sidewalks, doing things for them, but being smart about it, keeping six feet away from folks, washing your hands as much as possible, not going into crowds and just helping everybody for the next couple weeks as we hunker down."

The governor said these actions could slow down the pandemic so that the healthcare system has time to build capacity. 

“We're in the process of standing up our defenses to this onslaught from this virus. And I believe Alaskans will be prepared for this to the best extent possible,” Dunleavy said. He explained that if we take measures now, we’ll have less disease down the road. “We’re sacrificing a little bit now so we can, all of Alaska can, gain a lot more later.”

(Related story: Indian Country's COVID-19 syllabus)

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum said effective March 25th all people arriving in Alaska, unless they support critical infrastructure, must self quarantine for 14 days and monitor for illness. If a company’s workers need to travel into the state, then the employer must submit a plan for maintaining critical infrastructure while protecting the safety and lives of people in the communities in which they operate.

He said anyone arriving in Alaska from another state or nation, whether a resident or non-resident, will be asked to fill out a form showing where they’ll be staying. Then they must go directly from the airport to their home or lodging.

“You may leave your designated quarantine location only for medical emergencies,” Crum said. The penalty for non-compliance shows the state means business. “The failure to follow this order is punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 or imprisonment of not more than one year or both,” Crum said.

Crum said the goal is to limit contact except for family members.

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Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said: “We do know that the fate of all Alaskans is really in our hands at this time and these mandates that came in are essentially Alaska's version of shelter in place or stay at home, except the outdoors are lovely and they’re safe.” 

She said it’s not dangerous to go outside as long you stay away from people as much as you can, six feet apart at minimum.

Dunleavy said some people don’t think the coronavirus pandemic is anything to worry about, while others are taking it perhaps too seriously.

“I personally believe that this is going to not be the end of the world. There's no indication of that, but could it really impact our economy? Could it send our economy into a recession and possibly depression if we're not careful? Yes, yes it can,” Dunleavy said.

“And so we're going to have to take a look at that and have those discussions. But I don't want anyone out there thinking that what I'm saying is the economy is more worth more than somebody's life. I'm not saying that. But what I will say is that for generations and generations and generations, people have had to deal with these pandemics and these viruses, and they've also had to get up in the morning and feed themselves, and make things run for society.”

He said he can’t predict how long measures will be necessary, but he doesn’t think it will be months. 

“The time will come when people will say constantly hiding and running is not how they want to live their lives,” Dunleavy said.

Zink said she and other state officials understand it won’t be easy to adhere to the new rules. She said the mandates are hotly debated and looked at on an hour by hour basis.

As for the effectiveness of the measures being taken, Zink said,“I think that's really going to honestly be up to Alaskans. And so the more we act early and aggressively now, the more we slow it down later and the more we can kind of slowly open things back up without having huge health consequences.”

Hawaii's quarantine

Hawaii’s governor has instituted a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine starting Thursday of all people traveling to the state as part of efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The order applies to returning residents as well as visitors. It applies to all arrivals at Hawaii airports from the continental U.S. and international destinations and extends to other private and commercial aircraft. 

“With the majority of Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 cases linked to travel, it is critical that we further mitigate the spread of the virus by both residents and visitors who are coming from out-of-state,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement. “This plan was developed in collaboration with our county mayors and Hawaiʻi’s business, community and visitor industry leaders.”

Returning residents must quarantine themselves at home, the governor’s office said. Visitors must quarantine themselves in their hotel room or rented lodging. 

People under quarantine may only leave their homes for medical emergencies or to seek medical care, the governor’s office said. They cannot visit public spaces such as pools, fitness centers or restaurants. 

“These actions are extreme, but they will help flatten the curve and lay the groundwork for a quicker recovery. We need everyone to comply with these quarantine orders to help protect Hawaiʻi’s residents,” Ige said. 

The state announced 11 new cases of people with coronavirus, bringing Hawaii’s total to 48, according to Hawaii News Now. Three of them are hospitalized. The U.S. Army announced a soldier with the 25th Infantry Battalion based in Hawaii tested positive for coronavirus, the first case linked to the Army community in the state. 

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a long-time Alaska journalist. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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