State will end COVID-19 health emergency order

The state’s COVID-19 public health emergency order put in place 15 months ago will be rescinded on July 1, announced Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum.

“The COVID situation has mellowed out to where our systems are in place, our hospitals know how to deal with this, our health care providers have tools they need, because a lot of the treatments are actually commercially available or they’re able to order themselves directly,” Crum said at a press conference on June 6.

“And so, because of that, I am going to officially rescind the public health emergency order.”

Crum signed the order on April 30, 2021, the same day Gov. Mike Dunleavy ended the state's emergency disaster declaration that had been in effect since March 11, 2020.

The end of the public health emergency order will mean reduced benefits for an estimated 37,000 Alaska households participating in the Supplemental National Assistance Program, SNAP, about half of the households in the program.

The federally funded emergency food assistance currently adds to the maximum amount provided for a household’s SNAP benefits, according to Shawnda O’Brien, director of the Division of Public Assistance. Qualifying households receive varying amounts based on the size and income of their household.

The federal government has been paying the additional cost of the increased benefits, about $9 million a month in Alaska.

The additional benefits will be provided through the month of August, O’Brien said at the June 6 press conference.

In addition to the reduction in food assistance, the federal reimbursement rates for state COVID-19 spending will change on July 1. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been reimbursing COVID-19-related spending at 100%; that will fall to 90%, with a 10% state match.

The public health order directed the Alaska Department of Health to take all necessary actions in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, including facilitating cooperation between local health officials, state agencies, tribal health authorities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, also spoke at the press conference announcing the end of the emergency order.

“The big thing that has changed significantly over time is the number of people requiring hospitalization secondary to COVID-19,” she said. “A combination of how many people have been vaccinated, how many people have had COVID-19 in the past, as well as increasing access to therapeutics, means that while we still see people being hospitalized secondary to COVID-19, the overall burden on hospitals has significantly decreased.”

The announcement comes as Alaska has reported more than 265,000 cases of COVID-19 since March 2020 and 1,286 deaths as of June 8, according to the state website. The numbers for Wrangell are 633 cases and one death.

 

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