State scrambles to maintain COVID-19 response effort as disaster declaration nears expiration

Governor stands at podium with a woman on a zoom projected next to him
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. (Office of Gov. Dunleavy)

State officials are scrambling to determine if they’ll still be able to determine eligibility and distribute vaccines if the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration expires at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Alaska will lose legal tools it has relied on. But the governor 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. Without the authority the disaster declaration provides, “that throws the response into question.”

RELATED: If Legislature fails to act, Alaska’s vaccine plan and testing mandate face uncertainty

Dunleavy said in a news briefing Wednesday the state is preparing for the expiration, since 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, and the Alaska State Senate is moving quickly on it. But lawmakers said it’s unlikely to pass in time: The House is still deadlocked, 23 days into the legislative session. Split between two caucuses, the chamber can’t choose a speaker, form committees, or work on legislation.

The governor issued three disaster declarations after the initial one expired in November, even though the Legislature had gaveled out and was unable to vote on approval. No one has sued to block the extensions, but Dunleavy 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. When they weren’t in session, when we had those other issues, it was a different deal,” he said. “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 suspended regulations to go back into effect. 

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