Alaska governor seeks to assert calm over virus concerns

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, seeking to assert calm concerning the new Coronavirus threat, said Monday he sees the fall in oil prices as a ``momentary issue’’ that with the stock market will work itself out.

The virus has affected global energy prices, with North Slope oil prices around $45 a barrel at the end of last week. The state, which has struggled with a long-running deficit, relies on oil revenue and earnings from its oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help pay for government. Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. officials have said the fund has a diversified portfolio to help weather market turmoil.

``It’s not the end of the world,’’ Dunleavy said of the volatility. Speaking to reporters from Anchorage, he said the priority is dealing with COVID-19 and making sure Alaskans take care of their health.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said there were no known, confirmed cases of the virus in Alaska but said that could change.

Dunleavy put on hold town hall meetings in Kenai, Seward and Homer this week, which his office said will allow him to stay closely connected with other officials while monitoring the situation.

The town halls were meant to hear from residents on the state’s fiscal situation and its future. Dunleavy, in a statement, said he plans to do Facebook town halls and hold meetings with tribes, school districts, local government officials and others by phone ``until such time as we can resume travel to communities.’’

Meanwhile, legislative leaders plan to appoint a subcommittee to prepare for and put in place contingency plans surrounding the virus, said Daniel McDonald, communications director for the Senate majority.

Sen. Bert Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Friday lawmakers may need to pick up the pace of their work given the virus concerns. The Legislature has been prone to drawn-out and special sessions in recent years. Stedman said he wants to do what he can to avoid the need for any special session this year.

The U.S. State Department, on its website, cautioned against travel on cruise ships, particularly for those

with underlying health conditions. The cruise industry is a key player in Alaska’s tourism economy. Often, multiple

ships a day dock in Juneau during the busy summer season.

The Holland America Line cruise ship Westerdam is expected to tie up for two to three weeks at a private dock in Juneau at the end of March, the city announced last week. The city, citing the cruise company, said the ship has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and will have no guests on board when it arrives. Holland America did not respond to requests for comment.

The ship is expected to undergo a cleaning protocol approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before arriving in Juneau, the Juneau Empire reported Sunday.

The city expects its first cruise ship passengers in April.

Cruise Lines International Association, in a statement, said the industry is adopting additional screening measures in response to the virus.


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