As our nation and the world experiences the life-altering impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to take a moment to speak to you directly. If you’ve followed our many press conferences this week, you know that Alaska is rapidly preparing for an outbreak, and that an emergency was declared prior to our first confirmed case.
Now that the inevitable first case has occurred, our schools are safely closed, testing requirements have been liberalized, and steps have been taken to protect our seniors. Visitation has been suspended or limited at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, Alaska Military Youth Academy, Department of Corrections’ facilities, and the Alaska Pioneer Homes.
But ultimately, we know that this virus will spread. For America, experts believe the worst is yet to come. While we will undoubtedly slow the rate of infection with our diligent mitigation efforts, many Alaskans will be infected.
Most will recover, but others, despite our best preventive efforts, will suffer life-threatening complications. It’s vital to acknowledge that each of our decisions in the coming days and weeks will directly affect these numbers. Follow Dr. Zink’s guidelines, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and do not put vulnerable populations at risk. These small, albeit inconvenient changes, will save lives.
As I’ve said many times this week, it’s equally important that we do not live in fear of the virus. Our response should be steady and practical. I’m confident Alaskans will approach this challenge as we’ve always done – with determination, ingenuity, and compassion for our neighbors.
I’m confident because history has shown us that, whether it be fire, earthquakes, blizzards, volcanoes, or this present pandemic, Alaskans perform courageously under pressure. The days ahead will test us like few others, but Alaskans handle adversity better than any other people. When we face crises, we come together as one. No one hopes for a moment like the present, but I know these hardships will remind as of how proud we are to call ourselves Alaskan.
Nearly a century ago, Bill Shannon and his nine Alaskan malamutes set out from Nenana with precious cargo: 300,000 units of diphtheria antitoxin intended for the dying residents of Nome. Battling blizzards and gales and temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero, 20 mushers and 150 dogs traveled 674 miles in five-and-a-half days. Today, we commemorate that journey and others with the Iditarod, the 48th running of which concludes later this week.
In 1964, the Great Alaska Earthquake was the second-most powerful quake ever recorded. There was no looting, no violence – only neighbors helping neighbors. Just this week, the New York Times recalled this tragedy, declaring to Americans, “This is how you live when the world falls apart.” After undergoing a similar challenge in November 2018, we were reminded that this capacity for empathy and kindness is still within our hearts.
We must also acknowledge the role of faith in times of trial. John Adams believed, “People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity.” Whether it be 1944 or 2001, America has always looked upwards to face our greatest challenges. This past weekend, many of us refrained from our usual church gatherings and social events, but whatever your religion, I hope you had the chance to join my family and the nation in a national day of prayer.
We are Alaskans. As history demonstrates, we will endure and overcome these tribulations shoulder to shoulder. With God’s help, the tireless work of our scientists, healthcare providers, and local leaders, and your careful attention to their advice, we will traverse this storm together.