Anchorage’s new health director says COVID-19 is a very serious threat, that he is a “firm believer” in vaccines and is not considering an overhaul of the coronavirus screening and prevention efforts of the agency under the new mayor of the city.
“There is a saying, ‘You don’t fix something that ain’t broke,'” David Morgan said in a telephone interview. âIt’s one of the best programs in the state.
Mayor Dave Bronson announced Morgan’s appointment on Monday, and the two began their new jobs on Thursday – Morgan’s post being subject to confirmation by the Assembly.
Related: Mayor-elect of Anchorage Bronson appoints executive committee, led by established Tories
Bronson, during his campaign, criticized municipal health warrants and closures, and he also downplayed the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic, although he himself contracted the disease and presented long-term symptoms.
He called the COVID-19 vaccines “experimental” a few weeks ago and said he would not receive them. And at one point, he suggested there had been no pandemic at all, although he later said he misspoke.
But with case rates dropping sharply and the city’s COVID-19 emergency officially declared over in May, department heads like Morgan are now faced with more mundane policy choices than the emotionally charged pandemic dilemmas that Bronson includes. and his opponents debated during the election campaign for the past year. .
The city’s health service has a team of public health nurses who perform vaccination and disease screening. He authorizes and inspects restaurants. It monitors and authorizes daycares and childcare centers in Anchorage, oversees the municipal service that responds to reports of people and centers drunk or intoxicated in public and funds programs to fight homelessness, sexual assault and domestic violence.
The agency has also played an important role in the city’s response to COVID-19, with its officials promoting best practices and behaviors to minimize the spread of the disease.
The agency is currently leading Anchorage’s COVID-19 testing program, and it is providing millions of dollars to community groups for vaccination and testing, including the Alaska Black Caucus and United Way.
Related: Alaska Black Caucus to Use COVID-19 Money to Analyze Alaskan Black Health
Morgan, the new health director, said he did not want to disrupt these efforts, citing that the city’s vaccination rate of 59% of eligible residents is higher than the state’s overall rate of 55%. . He also endorsed vaccinations in general, saying he had been vaccinated against COVID-19 in January.
âI am vaccinated against shingles. I am vaccinated against polio, âhe said. “I firmly believe in it.”
Bronson, at a press conference Thursday, announced that masks would not be mandatory in city buildings and that vaccinations would not be mandatory for city employees.
But those two policies were largely in effect under the previous administration, and with regards to the city’s health department’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing programs, Bronson said he currently does not plan to ‘make big changes.
Related: Bronson issues gun guidelines, COVID rules for city workers, finances
âAs far as I understand the programs right now, no, I don’t understand them,â he said.
Morgan, who is 68, is a former District President of the Republican Party of Alaska, a longtime Conservative activist and a retired healthcare manager.
Morgan made some of his own social media posts during the pandemic that downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and questioned the safety of vaccines.
âWe did not prevent a crisis. We created one, âsaid a chart reposted by Morgan in May 2020 that showed Kansas’ COVID-19 death rates to be well below the state’s rate of business closures.
Another quoted a comedian as saying, “If you think the coronavirus panic in an election year right after three failed coup attempts against Trump is a coincidence, you might be as dumb as a rock!”
But as he prepares to lead the Anchorage Health Department, with its 130 employees and a municipal budget of $ 15 million, Morgan said the messages were meant to be jokes – and that he wasn’t. disagreed with all the posts he reposted.
Morgan deleted his Facebook account this week after Alaska Public Media asked about some of the posts he shared.
âI thought some of them were funny and some were just plain stupid, and that’s the truth,â he said. “We all make mistakes, and I don’t want to create any more distraction or havoc on something that was silly or a joke.”
Meg Zaletel, who co-chairs the Assembly’s health policy committee, called Morgan’s Facebook posts “relevant” and said they would raise questions upon her confirmation. But she also noted that many of them date back to the early months of the pandemic.
âThese messages seem to be in some way contrary to the current direction of the Ministry of Health. But I guess we’ll need to hear it, âshe said.
Morgan says he worked in health care in Alaska for 35 years and held jobs at Providence Alaska Medical Center and two tribal health organizations, the Southcentral Foundation and Eastern Aleutian Tribes. At EAT, he said, he ran five clinics and lived in the island community of Sand Point.
In recent years, he has worked as a conservative activist on health care issues, including in 2015, when he led a group that fought the efforts of the government of the day. Bill Walker, an independent, to expand the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.
Walker’s administration, the healthcare industry and progressive lawmakers supported the expansion, which under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was almost entirely funded by the federal government .
But Morgan and his group opposed the effort, saying it was only supported by special interest groups, would take money out of other government services and discourage work, as able-bodied Alaskans lose. access to Medicaid if they earn less than 138% of poverty. level.
Morgan’s public activism has largely targeted the state’s health department and Medicaid spending; The Anchorage Municipal Health Department is much smaller, although its responsibilities are extensive.
Morgan said it was too early to say if his vision for the city department is the same as the cost-cutting program he has brought to his activism around state government.
âI can’t really answer that question,â he said. âBecause apart from the budget, just the general budget, I never really looked at the operations.