Though the state of Alaska currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, Governor Mike Dunleavy is focusing on fighting federal vaccine mandates.
Dunleavy signed an administrative order Tuesday that prohibits all state agencies from participating in or assisting with federal vaccine mandates for employers. The order also tasks the state’s attorney general with reviewing all federal vaccine mandates and looking for ways to challenge them in court.
Last week, Alaska also joined nine other states in filing a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors. And in an opinion piece published Monday on a far-right political website, Dunleavy vowed that Alaska would also take legal action against an upcoming rule by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to compel companies with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or regular testing. White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday that the rule will be coming in a matter of days.
Dunleavy argues that the federal mandates and rules are “unconstitutional” and “completely unnecessary” for the state of Alaska, which has only 53 percent of its population vaccinated. The Republican governor claims Alaska has “handled COVID better than nearly every other state in the US.” He boasted that the state has never had a mask mandate and ended its emergency declaration before other states. The state also never prevented healthcare providers from offering unproven and potentially harmful treatments for COVID-19, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, Dunleavy proudly noted. And, so far, Alaska has the fourth-lowest COVID-19 death rate among states.
But Alaska also has the second-highest COVID-19 case rate overall in the country, with 19,000 cases per 100,000 people since the pandemic began, according to data tracking by the New York Times. Alaska is second only to North Dakota, with 19,584 cases per 100,000 overall in the pandemic. And Alaska currently has the highest daily case rate of any state or jurisdiction in the country, with 82 daily cases per 100,000 people. The state is now reporting a seven-day average of around 600 new cases per day, down from a peak of over 1,300 at the end of September.
Last month, amid the peak of the state’s delta wave, Alaska officials activated emergency crisis protocols in 20 medical facilities, allowing healthcare providers to ration care amid a crush of COVID-19 patients.
Dunleavy, who is up for reelection next year, is facing criticism from political opponents over his handling of the pandemic and his recent efforts to fight vaccine mandates. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Les Gara told Anchorage Daily News that Dunleavy “should be working overtime to find ways to convince people that vaccines are safe, save lives, and are one of the only ways out of this pandemic.”
Though vaccine mandates have faced opposition nationwide, that opposition is small—usually just a sliver of workers and communities—and the mandates have proven remarkably effective, again and again. Just on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 92 percent of the city’s 378,000 employees were vaccinated, with thousands getting shots as the deadline neared. Though there were concerns that more than 22,000 city workers would buck the requirement, causing mass disruption in city services, only 9,000—less than 6 percent of workers—were placed on unpaid leave this week. Mayor de Blasio said no disruptions were expected.