Monday, June 21

Fairbanks top hospital official seeks mask mandate to slow virus spread – Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The president of the foundation that owns the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital said it’s his mission to convince Gov. Mike Dunleavy to enact a statewide face mask mandate.

Jeff Cook, president of the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation, said Alaska is among only about a dozen states without one. He said the virus is under control in places that have required public health practices such as face coverings.

Cook said a Bethel woman died this week in Fairbanks, far from home, of COVID-19 after hospitals in Bethel and then in Southcentral Alaska were at capacity and could not accept her.

In Seattle, hospitals are refusing COVID-19 patients from Alaska, he said.

“It is time today for the governor to show some compassionate and wise leadership,” Cook said in a message to Dunleavy that was provided to surrogates.

Dunleavy has recommended face masks but has been photographed in group settings without a mask and has called for municipal leaders to decide if requiring masks is the right thing for their communities.

Many local leaders have pushed back on that. Lawyers of second-class boroughs such as the Fairbanks North Star Borough, which was designed to have limited powers, say a mask mandate is beyond the scope of local leaders’ authority.

“(Dunleavy) is wasting everyone’s time and money arguing with boroughs and cities about who has what power,” Cook wrote in an email shared with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

“He has the power and should exercise it. The vaccines are several months away in providing significant relief. We need to take actions now to reduce the positivity rate for COVID-19. If we don’t, we will outrun our capacity to care for COVID-19 and other patients in Alaska,” Cook said.

His comments add to ongoing pressure from people in the health care industry from around the state who are calling for bold action to slow virus transmission.

Intensive care unit beds are filling up. According to an online state virus data hub, 98 of 125 ICU beds in Alaska were filled with virus and other patients on Friday.

Cook is concerned about the stability of the health care system in the weeks and months ahead.

“I am tired of going into local stores where there are signs on the door requesting or requiring masks to protect the employees, yet the employees are not masked,” he wrote in an email to hospital trustees and executives.

He told them of his communications with Dunleavy’s staff, including Jim Sackett, director of the governor’s Fairbanks office, and Ben Stevens, chief of staff.

“Our grandson here in Fairbanks tested positive for COVID-19 and is recovering,” Cook said in the email to his colleagues.

“The mother-in-law of one of our daughters is in the hospital in Mesa, Arizona, and is critically ill with COVID-19,” he said. 

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough. 

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