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Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: 42 new infections and no deaths reported Wednesday

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 18:08

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Alaska on Wednesday reported 42 new coronavirus infections identified over two days, and no new deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services. The health department now updates its coronavirus dashboard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Alaska’s average daily case counts have been trending down significantly statewide, and the state’s current statewide alert level is low.

By Wednesday, roughly 54% of the state’s population age 12 and older had received at least their first dose of the vaccine, while 49% of residents 12 and older were considered fully vaccinated.

Alaska’s most-vaccinated region as of Wednesday was Juneau, with 70% of its eligible population vaccinated as of Wednesday. The state’s least-vaccinated region was the Mat-Su, where just a third of its 12-and-up population had received a dose.

On Wednesday, there were 15 people with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 hospitalized around the state, including five who were on ventilators.

No new deaths were reported Wednesday. In total, 366 Alaskans and seven nonresidents with COVID-19 have died since the pandemic reached the state last spring. Alaska’s death rate per capita remains among the lowest in the country, though the state’s size, health care system and other factors complicate national comparisons.

Over the last two days, there were 40 new cases reported among Alaska residents, including 18 in Anchorage, four in Fairbanks, three in Hooper Bay, two in Craig, two in North Pole, two in Palmer, two in Wasilla, and one each in Eagle River, Homer, Juneau and Wrangell. Three were reported in a smaller community or communities in the Copper River Census Area.

Two new nonresident cases were also identified in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

— Annie Berman

Senators press Interior Secretary Haaland after judge blocks Biden administration’s oil lease pause

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 17:57

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland appears before the Senate Appropriations Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/)

WASHINGTON — Both Republican and Democratic senators pressed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for answers Wednesday after a federal court blocked the Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

In a sharply worded ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana ordered that plans for lease sales continue in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alaska and in “all eligible onshore properties” nationwide. The ruling came after President Joe Biden shut down oil and gas lease sales from the nation’s vast public lands and waters in his first days in office, citing worries about climate change.

“It’s a fresh decision. Our department is reviewing the judge’s opinion as we speak and consulting with the Justice Department,” Haaland said under questioning at a Senate hearing on her department’s budget.

“We will respect the judge’s decision. Any other information will be forthcoming,” she said.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Interior subcommittee, said she was flabbergasted that Haaland did not address the court ruling — or the government’s vast oil and gas leasing program — in her prepared remarks.

“I was really struck by the fact that in 17 pages of discussions outlining the budget there really is no recognition for the production on our federal land and the role that plays,” Murkowski said.

In light of the court ruling, she told Haaland: “I expect to hear your plans to resume implementation of those lease sales. We expect you to follow the law.”

Haaland, a former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, responded, “I will always follow the law.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana also appeared impatient with Haaland, saying the review ordered by Biden — nearly two months before Haaland took office in mid-March — appeared to be dragging on.

“As this review rolls on, a leasing pause gives folks in the oil and gas industry a lot of uncertainty,” Tester said. “It’s getting harder and harder to extend that trust without hard information in the review.”

Tester asked Haaland when the review will “be ready for prime time.”

Officials have “said all along early summer ... so my guess is they’ll be getting it sometime in the near future,” Haaland said.

“I’m taking that as it’ll be out in the next month,” Tester replied. Haaland did not commit to a firm timetable.

The back-and-forth over the leasing pause and the court decision showed the stakes of Biden’s effort to reform — and likely scale back — the multibillion-dollar leasing program without crushing a significant sector of the U.S. economy.

Doughty’s ruling, in a lawsuit filed by Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states, is a blow to Biden’s efforts to transition the nation away from fossil fuels and stave off the worst effects of climate change, including catastrophic droughts, floods and wildfires.

Biden and Haaland have said the leasing ban is only temporary, though officials have declined to say how long it will last. And it’s unclear how much legal authority the government has to stop drilling on about 23 million acres (93,000 square kilometers) previously leased to energy companies.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the judge’s decision “a victory for the rule of law and American energy workers.’'

Biden’s “illegal ban (on new lease sales) has hurt workers and deprived Wyoming and other states of a principal source of revenue that they use for public education,” Barrasso said. “President Biden should immediately rescind his punishing ban and let Americans get back to work.”

Following Biden’s Jan. 27 order, the Interior Department canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June — affecting Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as offshore sales in the Gulf of Mexico. The department also abandoned a public comment period for a planned offshore sale in Alaska.

The 13 states that sued said that the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken and said that the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs.

Doughty, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017, said “millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake” for local governments and other public uses.

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, June 16

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2021-06-16 17:49
The most recent state and local figures. Wednesday, June 16, 2021 6:34pm; NewsCoronavirus.

Alaska lawmakers reopen Capitol to the public

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 17:32

The Alaska State Capitol is seen Monday, June 7, 2021 in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — A panel of state lawmakers has reopened Alaska’s Capitol building to the public.

The joint House-Senate Legislative Council voted 10-0 on Wednesday afternoon to end entry restrictions that have been in place since last year.

Until Wednesday, entry had been restricted to lawmakers, staff and members of the media. All had to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and before widespread vaccinations were available, had to undergo testing multiple times per week.

“Now we are open to the public,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. “Lobbyists and the public are welcome to this building as they were before.”

[Alaska Senate narrowly passes budget but fails to fully fund Permanent Fund dividend and other items]

Former Alaska Department of Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas was one of the first members of the public to enter the building after the restrictions were lifted.

“Someone had to be the first,” she said on social media alongside a selfie showing her in the Capitol’s lobby.

Someone had to be the first! #akleg pic.twitter.com/giuaZGc0aG

— Heidi Drygas (@HeidiDrygas) June 16, 2021

Under the new rules approved by the Legislative Council, individual legislative offices may ask visitors to wear a mask.

“Those experiencing fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms associated with COVID-19 should stay home,” the rules say. “Individuals in legislative facilities presenting with symptoms may be asked to leave the premises until symptoms are no longer present.”

Jessica Geary, director of the agency that administers legislative buildings, said it will be the “personal responsibility” of visitors to follow the rules.

Forecast calls for 'Another Rainy Day'

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2021-06-16 17:07
The song and EP had less local and literal inspirations, too. ... and Erin Heist received a $2,500 grant from Juneau Community Foundation to record ...

Petition to recall Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel moves ahead

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 17:02

Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel listens to the presentation. Anchorage Mayor-elect Dave Bronson and homelessness coordinator Dr. John Morris presented their preliminary plans to address homelessness to the Anchorage Assembly on June 15, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

A petition to recall Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel is moving forward more than 10 months after it was first filed, following a Superior Court ruling.

The Superior Court last month reversed the municipal clerk’s decision to reject the petition. The city is appealing decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Zaletel is a Midtown representative and local attorney who is up for reelection in 2022. The petition against her was filed by Russell Biggs, a local anesthesiologist and Midtown resident who was at the center of a failed recall effort against Assembly member Felix Rivera earlier this year.

Biggs filed two petitions against Zaletel last year, and alleged similar transgressions in the petition against Rivera.

The city’s municipal clerk, Barbara Jones, initially rejected both petitions against Zaletel, finding them legally insufficient. Biggs challenged Jones’ decisions in court, and the Superior Court judge sided with Biggs on one of the petitions.

That petition claims that Zaletel committed misconduct in office on Aug. 11 when she violated Emergency Order 15 and knowingly participated in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people at an Assembly meeting during the pandemic.

Judge Kevin Saxby, in his decision, explained that the city clerk interpreted “misconduct in office” in a way that was too restrictive and that the allegation Zaletel violated the emergency order is sufficient to be considered misconduct in office.

A lawyer for the group supporting Rivera had questioned the claims surrounding the Aug. 11 incident. Under Alaska law, courts do not investigate the claims in a recall petition to determine whether they are true or false. Instead, it is up to the voters to decide whether the allegations are true during the recall vote.

[Suzanne LaFrance named new acting chair of Anchorage Assembly]

The other petition against Zaletel, which the court denied, was filed last August. It alleged that she committed misconduct in office by “engaging in willful, flagrant, and obvious collusion to limit public testimony inside the assembly chambers.”

At the time, former Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz had instituted restrictions on gathering sizes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Assembly limited public participation at its meetings to phone and email testimony, while livestreaming and televising the meetings.

Saxby ruled against Biggs, saying the Open Meetings Act explicitly allows for teleconferencing.

Still, Biggs and other petition sponsors can now start the petition process. They have until Aug. 16 to gather the required 2,468 signatures of voters in Anchorage’s District 4 — 25% of the votes cast in the 2019 election for the Assembly seat, according to a letter to Biggs from the clerk’s office.

Ruth Botstein, the city attorney assigned to the case, said the city is requesting that the state Supreme Court expedite its appeal.

In an interview, Zaletel said, “I think it’s discouraging to waste public resources and my time on this.”

“The voters of Midtown already rejected recall on these grounds for Felix. And I’m scheduled to face the voters for reelection next spring, so it really feels like a distraction and a waste of time for the important business we have to do,” she said.

In a post on Facebook, Biggs wrote that Zaletel and the rest of the Assembly limited “the public debate on the diversion of millions of dollars of CARES Act funds” by closing the chambers last summer.

Biggs said in an interview said city legislators need to be held accountable for following the laws, just as citizens are, and that he feels the city used its resources to obstruct his petitions.

“Anybody that’s submitting a citizen-led initiative is facing a lot of obstacles — the time and the money involved, and the organization,” he said. “To have that obstructed — in this case, as the Superior Court ruled, incorrectly — and then kick the can down the road for 10 months, really, it is important this doesn’t happen again.”

Congress approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 16:36

FILE- In this June 19, 2020, file photo, protesters chant as they march after a Juneteenth rally at the Brooklyn Museum, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) (John Minchillo/)

WASHINGTON — The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.

The House voted 415-14 Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 12th federal holiday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas. That was also about two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Southern states.

It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United. States.”

[Juneteenth events happening around Anchorage this month]

Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, speaking next to a large poster of a Black man whose back bore massive scarring from being whipped, said she would be in Galveston this Saturday to celebrate along with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

“Can you imagine?” said the rather short Jackson Lee. “I will be standing maybe taller than Senator Cornyn, forgive me for that, because it will be such an elevation of joy.”

The Senate passed the bill a day earlier under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one senator’s objection to block such agreements.

“Please, let us do as the Senate. Vote unanimously for passage,” Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., pleaded at one point with his colleagues.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors. Democratic leaders moved quickly to bring the bill to the House floor.

Some Republican lawmakers opposed the effort. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., said creating the federal holiday was an effort to celebrate “identity politics.”

“Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” he said in a press release.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, voted in favor of the bill.

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.

Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said he would vote for the bill and he supported the establishment of a federal holiday, but he was upset that the name of the holiday included the word independence rather than emancipation. “Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by coopting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?” Higgins said.

“I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side, getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., replied, adding, “We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery.”

Former chiropractor faces additional sexual assault charges

Juneau Hot Topics - Wed, 2021-06-16 16:22
A former Juneau chiropractor facing multiple charges of sexual assault in April had ... The Empire still leases space from SEARHC for its press operations. ... that served the local Indigenous population, according to court documents.

Better elections, the Alaska way

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:59

Absentee ballots being scanned for tabulation at the Division of Elections Region II office in Anchorage on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

Last November, Alaskans from a wide array of beliefs and political ideologies voted to make some long-overdue and exciting changes to our elections. These changes will shine a light on dark money, so we know who’s trying to sway our elections; they will create an open primary with one ballot, so all Alaskans have a say in who represents us; and they will implement a uniquely Alaskan form of ranked-choice voting, ensuring that every winner is elected with a majority. All these changes will benefit Alaskans, regardless of where they land on the political spectrum.

As a lifelong Alaskan, I was honored to play a role on the committee that championed these changes. If this were an ordinary campaign committee, the day after the election victory, we would have cleaned out our desks and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. But Alaskans for Better Elections (ABE) is not an ordinary campaign committee. Our group is made up of Alaskans from all walks of life, of all ages, from every region across the state, who are committed to listening to and working with every voter so that we will all understand these changes before we step into the voting booth next fall.

The ultimate goal? That every Alaskan feels confident with how to cast their ballot under our new ways of voting and can see the positive impacts of the new Alaska-style elections. We take seriously the responsibility to build trust with the public and properly showcase this new election style. Regardless of what you may have heard, the new election system was designed specifically with Alaska in mind, and these changes are unique, new and 100% Alaska-grown. The goal from the beginning has been to give all Alaskans more choice, more voice, and more power in our elections.

We are not satisfied to just sit back and hope that happens. Over the next year and a half, our team will proactively take the lead in educating fellow Alaskans about these changes and will be making ourselves available to listen to your concerns and answer questions, to help ensure that Alaska has a world-class election experience in 2022.

You will see us around the state at town hall events, local festivals, or even at your local brewhouse or coffee shop, offering assistance and imparting correct information, so you’ll know what to expect when you vote in 2022. We hope you can come by and talk to us, listen to what this new system means for you, and offer suggestions, because this is about giving all Alaskans a voice, not just in voting itself, but in how our elections are conducted.

Naturally, not every person will have the chance to attend a live event or join in online conversations, which is why we have a robust website (www.AlaskansForBetterElections.com), just brimming with information. It also has a contact button, so you can send us questions or suggestions, and a “get involved” tab, if you want to join us in our efforts to help educate our neighbors.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the help, leadership, and partnership of the Alaska Division of Elections. One thing I have discovered in this whole process is how fortunate we are as a state to have such devoted and skilled people managing our elections, and I have complete confidence that with the changes brought about by this new law, Alaska’s elections will go more smoothly than ever.

I am excited to see these uniquely Alaska-style elections at work and would like to thank Alaskans for caring enough about our state to vote for a brighter future. This new system was crafted without any agenda or planned outcome, other than to make Alaska’s elections as fair and truly representative as possible and give voters more power; a power that can build a brighter and more prosperous Alaska for all for years to come.

Jason Grenn is a fourth-generation Alaskan and former independent Alaska State Representative. He now serves as the Executive Director for Alaskans for Better Elections.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

From eggs to smolt: Release of king salmon raised at Anchorage hatchery marks next phase of life cycle

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:58

Harold Richards removes dirt and pebbles from a salmon he caught in Ship Creek in Anchorage on June 9, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Early on a recent Wednesday morning, anglers in Anchorage lined Ship Creek and cast lines to catch returning chinook salmon.

Just minutes after 6 a.m., shouts of “fish on!” fluttered across the shore.

“Uncle! Uncle!” Marvin Richards yelled to Harold Richards. The top of his rod was bouncing as it rested in a holder.

Harold Richards grabbed the rod, moved it sharply up and to his right and hooked a salmon. His nephew grabbed a net and ran to the shore to help guide the chinook in.

With a grin that spanned the width of his face, Richards placed the fish in the grass and set the line again next to his nephew.

Anglers cast their lines in Ship Creek at 6 a.m. to fish for salmon. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Similar scenes unfolded throughout the morning thanks in part to an ongoing effort from staff at the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery, where each year they raise the next salmon that will mature in the wild and return to Ship Creek in three to five years.

There, Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish culturists have raised the newest group of king salmon, which started as eggs last July and grew into smolt this spring. It’s part of an endeavor that’s been happening at the Anchorage hatchery for years.

It all begins with the yearly eggtake from chinooks returning to Ship Creek, a uniquely urban waterway that partially flows along the edge of downtown Anchorage. After the eggs are fertilized, they’re loaded into incubators surrounded by warm lights that mimic the color of the tens of thousands of orange eggs.

Eggs spill into a bucket from an adult female king salmon during an eggtake at the hatchery on July 22, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Fish culturist Tim VanGelderen adds a light saline solution mixed in water to a bucket containing king salmon eggs and milt on July 23, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Fish culturist Scott Cunfer adjusts trays used to hold eggs during incubation in July, 2020 . (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

For months, it was up to fish culturists Scott Cunfer and Tim VanGelderen to keep these eggs alive and ensure their growth into fry. Long nights, daily checks and frequent cleanings are just a portion of the list when it comes to this job.

“I’ve just always enjoyed watching animals grow,” said Cunfer, who grew up around farm animals. “It’s just enjoyable to watch these fish get bigger and bigger … and to see it all happen in front of your eyes at such a quick pace.”

By mid-January, the fish weighed about 3 grams and were transferred to the production floor, Cunfer said. From there, fish culturists Cody Block and Greg Carpenter took over. Continued months of monitoring, disease control and cleaning took place as the salmon grew.

Scott Cunfer holds a newly hatched king salmon on Oct. 5, 2020. At this stage, the salmon's yolk sac is still attached and is providing essential nutrients for fin and organ growth. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Nearly 87,000 salmon fry swim around a tank as they adjust to life outside of the incubation room on November 16. Once they outgrow this 2190-gallon tank they will be transferred to a larger tank. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Scott Cunfer transfers trays of salmon fry into net baskets in November. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
Water flows through tubes as salmon fingerlings are transferred to a larger tank at the hatchery on Jan. 19, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
King salmon fingerlings flow through a tube that leads to a counter and large tank at the hatchery in January. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

“You worry about it all the time,” Carpenter said about the health of the fish during their time at the hatchery.

Earlier this month, the salmon were transferred to outdoor raceways that contained Ship Creek water. The fish imprint on this water, ensuring their eventual return, for about five days before being released.

Hatchery staff begin to remove barriers from the outdoor raceways to allow salmon smolt to be released into Ship Creek on June 7, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
A small king salmon swims to the surface of the outdoor runway. The salmon were held in the runway in order to imprint on Ship Creek water and were released into the creek about five days later. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Staff then released the 580,000 chinook salmon smolt into the creek.

Kids, teenagers and adults watched the release as harlequin ducks swam to the edge of the fish ladder, hoping to catch an afternoon snack.

A fish ladder extends into Ship Creek as thousands of king salmon smolt run through it and into the water. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)
People gather at a viewing area at the hatchery and watch as salmon smolt are released. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

“We’re putting these fish out there in order to give (people) a good opportunity … to enjoy this culture, heritage of fishing,” Cunfer said.

In the next six weeks, fish culturists will transfer 3.2 million fish out of the hatchery and into Alaska’s water sources, Carpenter said.

Just a few miles downstream from the hatchery, anglers have been gathering along the waterway in downtown Anchorage to catch returning adult salmon who left the hatchery as smolt years ago.

People bring a king salmon to shore from Ship Creek while fishing on June 9. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Marvin Richards, who has been fishing most of his life, said it was his uncle Harold who got him into the activity.

They and cousin Mary Walker, all originally from Holy Cross, spent the morning watching the water intently and waiting for their next bite.

“That’s good eatin’,” Owen Brooks said after he helped Robert Rozelle bring in a king a couple hundred feet down the shore.

A 20-pound chinook caught by George Elgarico was that morning’s showstopper.

“It’s rewarding to see people actually catch the returning cohos and kings,” Carpenter said. “It’s just a continuous cycle every year.”

Johnny Aguilar, left, and George Elgarico lift a king salmon and weigh it.The salmon, caught by Elgarico, weighed in at just over 20 pounds. (Emily Mesner / ADN) (Emily Mesner/)

Anchorage Mayor-elect Bronson to hold town hall on homeless shelter proposal

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:56

Anchorage Mayor-elect Dave Bronson speaks to the Anchorage Assembly to present preliminary plans to address homelessness on June 15, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Mayor-elect Dave Bronson will hold a public town hall meeting Thursday to discuss his administration’s newly released plan to address homelessness in Anchorage.

The proposal, first revealed to the public Tuesday, would construct a large shelter and “navigation center” capable of housing up to 400 people on Anchorage Police Department land near the intersection of Elmore and Tudor Road.

[Bronson administration details ambitious plan for East Anchorage homeless shelter]

Thursday’s town hall will be held from 5-7 p.m. at the Wilda Marston Theater, located inside the Loussac Library at 3600 Denali St. in Anchorage.

Wasilla doctor pleads guilty to federal charge of illegally distributing controlled substances

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:55

An Alaska doctor this month pleaded guilty to illegally distributing narcotics to his patients at Camelot Family Health clinic in Wasilla, where he specialized in pain management and family medicine.

Under a federal plea agreement, Dr. David Chisholm, 64, is required to surrender his state medical license. He also faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine, plus three years of supervised release.

Chisholm illegally and routinely “prescribed thousands of pills of highly addictive controlled substances” — including oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl — to patients who had not undergone a medical exam, and he issued prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said in a statement Wednesday.

The violations were discovered through an undercover investigation that revealed that “Chisholm’s prescription of these controlled substances was one of the significant contributing factors in the accidental deaths of five patients,” federal prosecutors said.

Court documents indicated that Chisholm’s violations had begun at a time unknown to a grand jury and continued up to or until late October 2020.

Chisholm will be sentenced at a later date by a federal district court judge.

The case is being investigated by the FBI, the DEA and the Alaska State Board of Pharmacy and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Schroeder, according to federal prosecutors.

Anchorage SWAT team trying to apprehend man inside home near Lake Otis and Dowling, police say

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:34

A SWAT team and crisis negotiators with the Anchorage Police Department are trying to apprehend a man believed to be armed inside a residence south of East Dowling Road, police said Wednesday afternoon.

Officers initially responded at 1:16 p.m. to a home on the 6200 block of Petersburg Street after a report of a possible burglary in progress, police said in an alert.

Petersburg Street is closed from East Dowling Road south to East 64th Avenue. Police are asking the public to avoid the area and refrain from posting pictures or videos of the scene.

Officers might deploy gas or use other tactics to try to apprehend the man, and police asked those nearby to follow their instructions, including evacuating if necessary.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

It’s time to go back to the doctor’s office. In person this time.

Alaska News - Wed, 2021-06-16 15:09


I am a primary care doctor who runs our chronic disease and preventive care initiatives at Massachusetts General Hospital, and in these waning days of the pandemic, my clinic often feels like a family reunion that has gone really well. I get to catch up with people I have known for almost a decade - many of whom I haven’t seen in well over a year - and make a difference in their lives. But those reunions aren’t always happy: Every other week for the last two months, I have diagnosed one of my patients with cancer. That has never happened before in my 10-year career.

As headlines abound about the grand reopening of our country, we’re all making plans. Long-overdue vacations are now on the calendar and the rental car apocalypse has arrived. Many are reuniting with family they haven’t seen in more than a year and videos of people hugging again are going viral. One big thing seems to be missing from everyone’s list: getting back to the doctor’s office. I want to offer some general advice about your own reemergence into society: Don’t delay your health care any further.

The pattern in each of my cancer cases was the same: Patients did not reach out with highly concerning signs and symptoms like unintentional weight loss, months of persistent diarrhea, or severe fatigue, or chose to delay a screening test like a CT scan or a colonoscopy because they were afraid of covid-19. If you are sitting on a new or mysterious symptom - especially one you’ve ignored throughout the pandemic - or have delayed a recommended screening test, the time to act is now. We never reversed the catastrophic messaging from the early days of the pandemic that health-care settings were unsafe or too overwhelmed to provide non-covid care. The messaging to stay away from health-care settings was incorrect and circumstances have changed: Health-care providers are open and ready to care for you safely and effectively. Your chance of getting covid at the doctor’s office is probably far lower than almost anywhere else you might go.

Meanwhile, those with chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure need to reestablish routine care, even if they feel like nothing has changed with their health. Thousands of patients with chronic health conditions were lost to follow-up during the pandemic and they are not yet banging down our doors to reconnect. I run a series of programs that keep score on how well we care for more that 190,000 primary care patients in eastern Massachusetts. During the pandemic, our overall rate of disease control declined by 17.4% for patients with diabetes (defined by a well-controlled blood sugar checked within six months) and by 18.1% for patients with high blood pressure (defined by a well-controlled blood pressure checked within six months). Initially, we explained away this decline by the fact that we were forced to close our doors by the state of Massachusetts. However, we have been fully open and available to our patients for months and our rates of chronic disease control remains 7% below pre-pandemic levels for diabetes and a whopping 12% below pre-pandemic levels for hypertension. Our total volume of primary care patient visits year-to date, including all telehealth, is still 19% lower than it was in 2019. This is despite an extensive media campaign, thousands of email messages, and many outreach calls to our patients. I would have expected a nationwide surge in outpatient visits to make up for the many thousands of routine immunizations and screening studies that were missed or delayed during the pandemic, but that surge has not yet emerged.

Primary care physicians are also well-equipped to help their patients grapple with many of the concerns that have arisen during the pandemic’s long months of isolation and anxiety. Numerous surveys performed over the past 12 months should raise a high degree of concern about a rising tide of depression, anxiety, alcohol and opiate use. Multiple studies have found that symptoms of depression across the population are three- to sevenfold higher than pre-pandemic. An estimated 81,000 people died of drug overdose in the 12 months of 2020 alone, the highest number on record. Similar alarm bells are ringing about alcohol use.

Many are struggling, but help is available. It starts by taking the most difficult step: coming forward and sharing what you are going through. Primary care doctors are very comfortable managing most cases of depression and anxiety. We have medications that help reduce cravings for alcohol and opiates. Increasing numbers of health systems have built substance use disorders teams led by specially trained addiction medicine physicians, recovery coaches, psychologists and nurses who can help with alcohol or opiate use without stigma or judgment.

There are still far too many barriers to accessing high-quality, affordable health care for all people in the United States. Fortunately, the relief packages and emergency measures passed during the pandemic offer some glimmers of hope. The Biden administration dramatically increased eligibility to purchase health insurance on the exchanges by opening a special enrollment period through Aug. 15, 2021, accessible through healthcare.gov and the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. Simultaneously, many health systems are actively growing their primary care patient base, though finding a primary care doctor in the United States remains much harder than it needs to be.

Getting care isn’t just on patients, of course. I have no doubt that the decline in chronic disease control and prevention has disproportionately impacted patients of color, patients with limited English proficiency and patients with limited insurance. Health systems will have to respond by dedicating resources like community health workers and navigators to better support these communities.

Even now, I still have some days where my schedule is only half full. It haunts me that I am diagnosing more cancer than usual while watching appointment slots go unfilled. Together, these two facts should be a reminder that there’s reason to both seek out care and to expect that it will be waiting for you when you go looking for it. If you are afraid of what your symptoms might portend, avoiding the potential financial impact of seeking health care or simply overwhelmed by the return to work or school, I would urge you to keep it simple: Reach out to your doctor’s office or your local clinic and get in to see someone as soon as you can.

Daniel Horn, M.D. is a primary care physician and director of population health for the Division of General Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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