By Dennis Anderson
It was a bit surreal traveling outside of my bubble for the first time since the COVID-19 shut down in mid-March.
First my wife Melissa and I traveled at the beginning of this month to Arvada to see our grandchildren for the first time in nearly a year. Our youngest celebrated her second birthday. Spending time with them made me realize that as much as I thought I missed them, it was really much more than that.
Then came my first trip to Alaska this past week. The last time I went to visit the newspapers I oversee was January of this year. Prior to COVID I tried to make the trips quarterly. I honestly believe I contracted COVID in January, though I have no proof other than I was severely ill for about three weeks when I returned home and then Melissa was very ill. We had all the symptoms of the disease but in January no one really knew what it was. I traveled through the Seattle airport. This trip I avoided Seattle and connected in Denver with a straight flight to Anchorage. I’m avoiding Seattle at all costs moving forward.
What I discovered on this trip is the abundance of precautions that airlines are taking. Typically when I travel I’ll come down with something even if it’s a simple head cold. I’m happy to report I don’t have as much as a sniffle. The burning I felt in the back of my throat as I was seated on the plane was from the disinfectant sprayed. It was a little uncomfortable but I’ll take it over the alternative.
However, I’ve been watching Alaska from afar; how they have handled COVID. Other than Anchorage and some of the communities in the bush, it’s been pretty relaxed. No state mandates just suggestions. Including an alert about three weeks ago from Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office about a public statement he would make concerning the pandemic. COVID numbers in Alaska as in most places are rising and with approximately 700,000 population and limited resources — it’s a real issue. But the governor’s video statement was more in the line of “Hey guys we can do better. After all, we’re Alaskans.” It landed with a real thud.
I told a co-worker how disappointed I was that the state is really not leading on this. It feels like everyone for themselves, while hospital beds are filling up at an alarming rate and temporary morgues are being ordered. His response was classic, “Well isn’t Alaska supposed to kill you anyway?” Maybe but why antagonize the situation. After all, people don’t run around poking bears for sport. Why not poke the virus?
As the COVID world began to close in on me last week and numbers continue to rise in each of my four markets in Alaska and Colorado. I decided to close our offices to the public for in-person visits. This was mostly out of concern for employees making contact with individuals. We’re still here to serve but just not in person. No need to take any unnecessary risks.
We have also moved our in office protocols to a higher level. No inter office conversations within 6 feet without masks on, stay home even if you have the sniffles, wash your hands, etc.
As a business leader in our communities and how visible we are to the public I felt it was important to not only reduce the risks to our employees but set an example for the community. This disease is serious business. I’m not interested in how small the percentages are, how many people come down with mild symptoms. Yes, I realize the recovery rate is very high. But if one person I know or care about comes down with this disease and doesn’t recover I would never be able to live with myself if it was due to my cavalier attitude.
I do believe like many that our leaders in government have either been too relaxed or have overstepped. I’m not calling for businesses to close but to be diligent. Make people wear masks. No shirt, no shoes, no masks, no service. Masks won’t end the spread of the disease but we know for a fact they will slow it down tremendously. We don’t have to look any further than our public schools to see that they work. While part of me thinks we should shut schools down until February and this includes virtual class time. The other part of me is impressed really with how quickly the schools recover from a positive test situation. Here in Delta and Montrose at least. In Alaska it’s out of control and the schools are back to no in person learning. The yoyo effect that has on parents and students is frustrating to watch.
For those of you who are still riding that masks are an affront to personal freedoms and those who wear them are “sheeple.” I’m simply asking you to stop the rhetoric. If you don’t want to wear a mask then don’t but if someone asks you to then you should respect that wish. We can twist the numbers anyway we want to to make our point. Politicians can play football all they want with this subject to rile up their base. But the fact of the matter is stats are pliable but facts are stubborn to paraphrase Mark Twain. And we have to as business leaders, government leaders set the example and as individuals do our part to slow this virus down until a vaccine is distributed. If you want to hide behind patriotism as a reason to not wear masks then go ahead. At this point I would rather exude basic human decency and compassion for others.
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.