As the media-driven hysteria and panic over the rise of the corona virus continues and the number of infected and deceased Americans continues to rise, a few local observations on preparing for the arrival of Corona here in Anchorage are submitted for your consideration, if for no other reason to figure out if we are doing the right thing.
First observation took place at Anchorage International Airport in the International Terminal. There are two Chinese offices on the second floor of the terminal. One of them is Cathay Pacific and the other is their cargo operation. Both offices were locked up tighter than a drum and looked to have been so for a while. This was before I heard about President Trump’s shutdown of traffic between China and the US, which was probably the reason. Given the amount of Chinese air traffic through Anchorage and widespread local travel of their crewmembers and passengers while in Anchorage, I would suggest that this decision is the single best one made to limit the outbreak in Alaska so far.
Second observation is what might be a bit of panic among Anchorage shoppers. I regularly visit Costco. Crowds over the last 10 days or so have been phenomenal, which may or may not have been connected to Fur Rondy. What are they buying? Everything, though cleaning supplies, rice, beans, and other foodstuffs that lend themselves to long-term storage and use seem to be really common. If this was what was going on, Anchorage residents are doing what they can to limit their risk from the disease by prepping for an extended quarantine. Like the halting of air traffic to and from China, this is also a healthy lifestyle choice.
Before I proceed, one of the things we are being told regarding this virus is to pay attention to cleanliness, basic sanitation. This means wipe down surfaces, use of a LOT of Purell, and pay particular attention to hand washing. Hugs and even handshakes are now being questioned in some locales. The next couple items point out how the Anchorage Assembly made decisions the last couple years that completely ignore basic sanitation concerns.
Unfortunately, not all lifestyle choices are healthy ones. The Anchorage Assembly, Mayor and School Board (think unions) have made policy choices that end up being not all that healthy at all and will in turn contribute to the spread of the disease once it shows up in town.
The first of these bad choices is the ban on plastic shopping bags. When you bring your reusable shopping bag into any store or business, you bring everything that is riding on that bag. If it is Corona, you bring Corona into that business, spread it around the wares on its shelves, and among the other shoppers in those stores. If your bag was clean and sanitary and gets exposed to Corona at the store, you take it home with you. Neither is a positive outcome. The feel-good, green virtue signaling done by the Anchorage Assembly passing this ban has the potential to spread Corona farther and much wider than it would otherwise have spread, simply by removing the option of clean, sanitary plastic bags by Anchorage shoppers. This should be a topic for Assembly races in April.
The second bad choice is tolerance and support for a homeless population spread far and wide in the public spaces here in Anchorage. These people are not in the best of health. They are regular drug users and leave an unknown quantity of their bodily fluids where they live and relive themselves. That stuff will eventually get in the sewage treatment system and in local creeks and streams, and in turn into local waters, many of which are fished and recreated in during the summer. Once the disease shows up in town, I can’t think of any better way to encourage its spread than to tolerate and support a homeless population living and leaving their bodily fluids in public areas. By tolerating this, Ethan and the Anchorage Assembly set the stage for a rapid spread of disease citywide once it shows up.
Final bad choice comes courtesy of the Anchorage School District, School Board, and the Teacher’s unions. Amid reports of public schools being shut down in Hong Kong and Seattle, I start wondering how we here in Anchorage will deal with a possible extended shutdown of ASD. Hong Kong is facing the prospect of a 13-week school closure. Their response has been a combination of online education and home schooling, also massively supplemented by online ed. The school system in Seattle has closed at least a dozen public schools for cleaning in response to the Corona outbreak. No date for reopening the schools has yet been determined. If Hong Kong is the model, these closures will not only continue for a while, but spread.
How will Anchorage deal with an extended public-school closure should one show up? Remember that the Teachers’ Union has all but demanded herding all students into schoolrooms and have over the years fought tooth and nail any and every alternative attempt to educate kids with online / distance methods, protecting their budget at all costs. And the people they put into office for the most part refuse to even consider the online option, yet another poor and imminently predictable self-serving policy choice having absolutely nothing to do with the education or healthy well-being of their charges (students).
Note that not only are the unions adamant about refusing online / distance education, so are most parents, particularly parents of younger children, as early education is widely viewed (and used) as childcare as well as education. This will be a tough nut to crack.
So, when this outbreak hits town (my assumption is that it will, so we must be ready for it), we will have done a couple Very Good things to get ready (shutdown of air travel between China, supplies purchase by individuals and attention to sanitation). Unfortunately, the currently elected government here in Anchorage – Assembly, Mayor and School Board – have put policies into place over the last 5 years that are positively awful, and will make it all that more difficult to contain or control an outbreak – plastic bag ban, tolerance of homeless encampments, both of which are sanitation issues, and a kneejerk rejection of online / distance education. These decisions and policies have collectively made us less safe, removed yet another chunk of safety margin. For what?
Perhaps it is time to get another batch of politicians, someone (anyone?) who is at least a little bit interested in public safety and health. This isn’t the first pandemic. I most certainly won’t be the last. It won’t be all that difficult to do better. OTOH, we’ll have to try pretty hard to do worse.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.