I’ve spent the last few days in Alaska and I now understand why the state is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases.
Very few people wear masks. Especially outside of Anchorage, mask-wearing is sporadic at best. This has prompted the Alaska government to institute very strict testing procedures for out-of-state visitors. If you’re not from Alaska, you have to have either a negative test result upon arrival, taken within the last three days, or have to fork over $250 and quarantine yourself until your test results come back.
This has caused further strain on the already crippled travel industry in the state, as the few tourists that were going to visit Alaska may have reconsidered.
Alaska is unique in that its economy is relatively immune from downturns, as one-third of all employees in the state work for the federal government.
Without the support of Washington, Alaska would be in far worse shape. Denali National Park has seen visitor numbers decrease by over 90%, but the park rangers are government employees and their incomes are paid regardless. Thus, the local economy has not experienced as much of a shock.
Another third of state employees work in oil and gas, which has been hurt by lower energy prices, and many firms have already filed for bankruptcy. The remaining third of employed Alaskans work in tourism and services, providing for the other two-thirds.
Should the pandemic last much longer, into next summer for example, not only will energy prices continue to decrease as a result of faltering demand, but the tourism industry, already struggling, will face an existential crisis.
According to data released this week by the state, there is another, more ominous side of the pandemic: its disproportionately negative impact on the Native American population.
Native Alaskans are nearly 60% more likely to get the coronavirus, according to data, and the picture is far worse for Alaska’s Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population who are more than seven times more likely to get infected. While the sample size isn’t large enough to be significant, there does appear to be a pattern.
One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, Alaska is deserving of more resources from the federal government to preserve its vast wilderness and bolster the local economy, which depends on federal funding.
The third-smallest state by population, Alaska will be all right, but the 47 states with populations larger than Alaska’s are especially vulnerable during this period of uncertainty.