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State seeks answers to key vaccine questions as COVID-19 disaster declaration nears expiration

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, watches Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on April 2, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)
Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, watches Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on April 2, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

February 10, 2021 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media

State officials are scrambling to determine if they’ll still be able to allocate vaccines and determine who’s eligible if the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration expires at 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will lose legal tools that it has relied on. But, the governor also said his administration will continue to manage the pandemic response.

“It’s something we are rapidly working with, with our federal partners and the Department of Law, to make a determination,” said Department of Health and Social Services Commission Adam Crum, adding “this is something that throws the response into question,” without the authority the disaster declaration provides.

Dunleavy said in a news briefing Wednesday that the state is preparing for the expiration, as a deadlock in the Legislature may prevent an extension. Dunleavy expressed optimism, but also uncertainty.

“Would a declaration assist us? Yes. If there is no declaration, is it going to throw us into chaos? We don’t know; we don’t think so,” Dunleavy said. “But certainly an extension would help the cause.”

Dunleavy proposed a bill to extend the declaration. The Senate is moving quickly on the bill. But lawmakers say it’s unlikely to pass in time. That’s because the House has been deadlocked for the first 23 days of the legislative session. The chamber has been split between two caucuses, preventing it from forming committees or working on any bills.

The governor issued three disaster declarations while the Legislature wasn’t in session, after the initial declaration expired in November. But he said he won’t do it again with lawmakers in the Capitol.

“As long as they’re in session, it’s in their hands. It’s in their ballpark,” he said. “When they weren’t in session, when we had those other issues, it was a different deal. Many people have questioned that, and I understand that. But right now, this is the Legislature’s purview.”

Dunleavy declined to call on the House to organize. “The organization of the Legislature really is a concern of the Legislature,” Dunleavy said. “It is a concern for all of us, obviously, and we’ve all been having discussions, hoping that the House forms up sooner than later.”

Dunleavy said the expiration will cause some 200 regulations that have been suspended to go back into effect.