Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, December 01, 2005

State to stockpile anti-flu drugs

ANCHORAGE - A stockpile of drugs to fight the flu and an electronic registry of vaccination histories are among the public health programs that will see increased state funding, state health officials said.

A range of health programs will receive a total of $7.2 million, said Karleen Jackson, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Social Services.

About $1.2 million, would go toward anti-viral drugs, including Tamiflu, a drug that could be helpful during a mass outbreak of flu.

A flu pandemic could make about one-third of Alaskans sick enough to seek treatment, Dr. Richard Mandsager, state public health director, said. It could kill 4,000 people and put the state through waves of flu outbreaks that endure for a year to a year and a half, he said.

"It will happen in our lifetimes," he told the Anchorage Daily News on Tuesday.

The governor's proposed spending would also include an electronic vaccine and disease registry, which other states are already using.

Flags lowered for former legislator

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff in memory of former state Rep. Margaret Branson of Seward, who died on Tuesday. She was 78.

Branson served a term in the state House of Representatives from 1979-1980 from Cooper Landing, the governor's office said in a prepared statement.

Branson has also served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, the Seward City Council and was a member of several government and civic committees.

State flags were lowered half-staff at the start of business on Thursday, and will be returned to full-staff Dec. 12.

A memorial service is scheduled in Seward on Dec. 11.

State flags also were flown this week at half-staff in honor of former state Rep. Alvin Osterback. The Sand Point Democrat died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 90, the governor's office said.

Osterback was a commercial fisherman and shipwright.

He served in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1980.

Murkowski appoints three judges

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski has appointed two state attorneys and a private lawyer as judges in Anchorage and Bethel, respectively.

Eric Aarseth, 42, who has worked for the Department of Law since the 1990s, first as a prosecutor and then as an assistant attorney general in its Civil Division, was appointed to Anchorage Superior Court.

Also appointed to that court was Patrick McKay, 52, who has a private practice in Anchorage.

They will replace retiring judges Larry Card and Dan Hensley.

Murkowski appointed Patrick McKay, 58, to a new judgeship in Bethel District Court. McKay has been an assistant district attorney in Bethel since 2001.

Governor spokesman Mike Chambers said the three were selected because of their qualifications, and not because they work for the Department of Law or because they made cash contributions to Murkowski, as McKay did when he gave $200 for the governor's 2002 campaign.

Murkowski met with the three and considered them "the best suited for the judgeships they were appointed to," Chambers said. "The campaign issue is irrelevant. It's not even a factor the governor considers when he's making those kinds of appointments."

Voters will decide whether to keep the three on the bench in 2008. Superior court judges are subject to retention votes in the first general election held more than three years after their appointments. For district court judges, it's the first general election after two years of their appointment.

Schools reopen after bus vandalism

ANCHORAGE - Students in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough were back in school Wednesday a day after vandals damaged buses at the school district's main contractor. Officials also said they had pinpointed four suspects in the case.

"All buses are rolling," said district spokeswoman Kim Floyd.

Alaska State Troopers in Palmer on Wednesday contacted three of four suspects in the vandalism case, a spokesman said.

The three males, ages 16, 17, and 18 , are all students with the Mat-Su school district. They were not arrested, but were remanded into the custody of their parents, spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

Troopers say two of the suspects attend Burchell High School and two attend Wasilla High School.

A fourth suspect, age 17, is still being sought, Wilkinson said.

Employees had showed up for work early Tuesday and noticed flat tires on multiple buses parked at the company headquarters on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway.

An investigation revealed that 69 tires on 45 of the contractor's 97 buses had been flattened in the unfenced yard. The vandals had removed the tire valves from many of the tires.

Also, cords plugged to engine block heaters had been detached from 93 buses. Temperatures had fallen to 9 degrees below zero.

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