Anchorage health department director’s confirmation vote accelerated as assembly raises questions over pandemic-related comments


As the coronavirus pandemic rises again in Anchorage, the confirmation vote for Mayor Dave Bronson’s director of health services, David Morgan, has been rushed due to concerns about his qualifications and recent comments he has made about the pandemic. It was moved from Aug. 24-10, Assembly vice president Chris Constant said.

“Everyone who appears before us will be heard fairly,” Constant said. “It takes six affirmative votes to be confirmed. And I don’t know if those votes are there.

Some Assembly members had called for this to be speeded up over concerns over recent statements Morgan made about the pandemic in press interviews and social media posts, he said.

A spokeswoman for the city’s health department said Morgan was not available for an interview. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said questions from Assembly members will be answered Tuesday in a confirmation hearing.

Some members of the Assembly expressed concern about a comment Morgan made in an interview with Alaska’s News Source last week, in which he avoided questioning whether the pandemic is underway.

“I really can’t answer that,” he said. “I think it’s a, it’s a definition – it’s kind of a personal point of view. I wouldn’t, we are not in a state of emergency, and that’s what I do. Pandemic is an adjective that describes a situation.

He later told Alaska’s News Source that he was talking about the concept of an emergency declaration and that he believed that if a person was not vaccinated, they were in the midst of a pandemic.

Morgan said he was vaccinated himself. Bronson, in an interview last week, said he was not vaccinated, and also reiterated that he will not need masks in the city or implement COVID-19 precautions like restrictions capacity. Bronson has made criticism of the pandemic restrictions of previous mayors and the Assembly’s support for them a key part of his campaign.

The director of the Anchorage health department oversees a staff of around 130 and a budget of $ 14.7 million. He is largely responsible for the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, overseeing vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

According to Morgan’s resume, he has over 30 years of experience in healthcare management, including working for the Southcentral Foundation and Providence Hospital.

“It is essential to consolidate leadership within the health department at a time when we are seeing an increase in COVID infections,” said Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

In a previous interview with the Daily News, Morgan compared choosing to wear a mask to choosing to wear a suit and tie at work.

“… some people wear masks and some don’t. It’s like some people wear a tie like me, and a suit, at work in the health department, and some don’t. We don’t push that. We want people to be comfortable and to feel safe, ”Morgan said.

Zaletel said for her, the comment raises questions.

“For many of our children, who are under 12, this is not a dress choice. It’s a health and safety measure, it’s something that keeps them from getting sick, and so I feel like it was a pretty cavalier attitude and I didn’t really think about those who were not eligible to be vaccinated, ”Zaletel said. “So I have a lot of questions. Lots of concerns which led to a lot of questions, hopefully can be answered at the confirmation of charges hearing.

Constant said Morgan’s politically charged social media posts about the pandemic that downplayed its severity, first reported by Alaska Public Media, had also drawn attention. The account has since been deleted. Morgan told Alaska Public Media he thought some of the posts he shared were funny, while others were “just plain stupid.”

Constant said members of the public had emailed Assembly members with concerns about Morgan as director of the health department.

Assembly members also said they were concerned about reports circulating on social media about Morgan’s work performance in his previous jobs. A person on social media detailed an experience working with Morgan at a local nonprofit, questioning his skills. The Daily News was unable to confirm this information.

Many issues are expected to be discussed on Tuesday, at a confirmation hearing for Morgan ahead of next week’s vote, Constant said.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of questions about the pandemic, its philosophy, its qualifications, its choices, its experience, why there are members of the public saying such things about it – are they true – whatever is on the table, ”Constant said.

Still, some members of the Assembly say they are likely to support Morgan.

Member Crystal Kennedy said the mayor should be able to choose who has leadership roles in his administration. Despite concerns about spikes from previous administrations, Kennedy voted to prove them all, she said.

“I stick to the same kind of principle, that the mayor can choose who he thinks can best run his departments,” Kennedy said.

Bronson also announced last week the appointment of Dr Michael Savitt, who will take over as chief medical officer of the health department, taking over from epidemiologist Janet Johnston, who resigned last week.

Zaletel said she was encouraged to hear Savitt at a press conference last week promoting the wearing of masks for unvaccinated people and vaccinations as a safe and effective tool against the virus.

Others raised concerns over Savitt’s online comments on a local conservative website before he was singled out. The comments criticized Assembly members for pandemic-related closures and mask warrants, and questioned the effectiveness of the masks.

In an article, Savitt said the masks “do not protect anyone from this virus or any other virus.”

In response to a question about the post, Savitt said via a spokesperson for the Department of Health, “The CDC’s advice and recommendations on masking keep changing. We follow CDC guidelines.

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