What exactly the end of Alaska’s disaster declaration means is uncertain: however, officials warn that the pandemic is far from over. Vaccinations, like those administered in Sitka, will be critical to reaching the 75-percent “herd” immunity needed to defeat COVID-19. (KCAW photo/Berett Wilber)

Alaska’s Emergency Disaster Declaration for COVID-19 lapsed on Sunday (2-14-21) — but that hardly means the end of the statewide effort to combat the ongoing pandemic.

The mandates issued by the governor’s office during the emergency are now considered recommendations, and orders are now alerts.

Bryan Fisher, incident commander for the State of Alaska Emergency Operations Center, told reporters last week (2-11-21) that no one was packing up the shop anytime soon.

“We really aren’t changing any of our recommendations out there,” said Fisher. “People wearing masks, continuing to social distance, asking people to get tested before they travel — or when they get back here to the state. So we’re going to keep that all in place. What will really change with the expiration of the emergency is, for example, the health orders that we have in place that require a molecular test for SARS-CoV-2 [editor’s note: a “PCR test”] prior to coming to the state — that requirement will turn into a recommendation in the interim until the emergency has expired. So we still are encouraging all travelers, all folks living here or visiting the state, to continue to participate in all of those things that we’ve been recommending for the past year.”

That’s the advice of health officials as well. Heidi Hedberg is the director of the Division of Public Health. She said testing for travelers was especially important as part of the state’s surveillance program for the recently-discovered variants of COVID-19, which are believed to be more infectious.

And she added that non-residents won’t be stuck with a big bill if they fail to get a test before their trip. (Read the state’s advice for travelers.)

“For out-of-state residents who are coming up to visit Alaska, will we still be charging the $250 (for a test)? The answer is no,” she said. “We are not going to be charging. That’s one of the differences between a health order to a health alert. And I would just piggyback on to what Bryan said that these are recommendations: The infrastructure at the airports is still remaining. We’re still asking travelers, tourists, Alaskans, to still get tested and to submit a travel declaration.”

Although the governor’s Disaster Declaration expired on Sunday (2-14-21), the state House of Representatives may choose to pass a declaration of its own.