Have test will travel: Alaska visitors must prove they’re covid-free, or pay $250 to be tested
An Alaska Airlines 737 touches down in Juneau in 2016. (Flickr photo/Gillfoto)
Alaska has upped the ante for travelers arriving from out of state — literally. As of August 11, non-resident arrivals must present proof of a negative covid test three days prior to entering the state, or pay $250 for a test when they step off the plane.
Note: In addition to the stricter testing requirement for non-resident travelers to Alaska — the new mandate requires ALL people who travel to fill out a declaration on arrival.
The new mandate spells the end of free testing at Alaskan airports for visitors to the state. Also gone are the option to test 5 days before arrival, or to skip testing altogether and self-quarantine for 14 days. The mandate applies to all non-residents, no matter how they enter the state.
Residents, however, can still get the free airport test, or opt for the two-week quarantine. The idea behind the mandate is to conserve testing resources for residents, and reverse the steady increase in community spread seen throughout the state this summer.
State epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin says Alaska’s infection and death rate remains low compared to other states.
“However, as everybody knows we went through a pretty big surge of cases over the last six weeks or so — certainly the last month — and that was very, very difficult for us to manage,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin says that contact tracing, in particular, was challenging during the summer surge. He spoke during a weekly video conference for the media with the top medical experts in the state (8-6-20). The new travel mandate was released during the session, along with other details about the state’s response to the pandemic.
McLaughlin said the demographics of the illness had changed since the spring.
“The main drivers of the case counts that we’re seeing right now is young adults, people in their twenties, thirties, and even forties,” said McLaughlin. “They’re really driving the epidemic right now.
In Sitka, a recent cluster of four cases involved a man in his forties, a woman in her twenties, and two teenage girls.
McLaughlin said there wasn’t any remaining doubt about the efficacy of masks in helping prevent the spread of the disease, and that the scientific literature was conclusive. Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, added that everything we’ve been doing with hygiene, hand washing, social distancing, and masks remains critical to controlling the virus.
“I keep saying that this virus is a tiny little set of RNA molecules surrounded by a little fat structure that only lives if we let it, by going from person to person,” said Zink. “And so if we can just stay away from each other and do those things, we’re really in control of that.”
Zink said it was the job of the Department of Health and Social Services to follow the data, the science, and the available information, and present it “in the most transparent way that we can.” She suggested that mandates alone would not stop COVID-19.
“Travel restrictions, mandates, requests, requirements — all those things,” Zink said. “Bottom line, the virus does not care if it was mandated that you wore the mask or not, it cares that it can’t get to the next person.”
She added that “the more we can do as individual Alaskans to stand up and minimize the spread from one person to another, we are in control of this virus, and it’s not in control of us.”