Three new cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in Alaska on Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 12.
Two new cases were diagnosed in Fairbanks and one in Ketchikan. The new cases in Fairbanks, diagnosed in individuals in their 20s and 30s, could not be traced to out-of-state travel, raising concern about possible community transmission in the state.
Kodiak did not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. The virus has been diagnosed in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Seward. As of Thursday afternoon, 512 tests had been performed in the state of Alaska. Officials did not report the exact number of tests on Kodiak residents. So far, none of the diagnosed cases in Alaska have required hospitalization. All patients are self-isolating.
“We’re fortunate to this date we’ve had no deaths in the State of Alaska, and we’re going to do everything we can to minimize that from occurring,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a press conference Thursday evening.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced two new health mandates on Thursday, requiring hospitals to postpone or cancel all non-urgent or elective procedures for three months, and requiring dental clinics to postpone elective oral healthcare procedures for one month.
“That can be really challenging,” Dr. Anne Zink said. “We want to make sure that we’re minimizing any undue consequences and we’re asking people to take this seriously.”
The goal is to free up personal protective gear to help address emergencies and testing needs, Zink explained.
She urged Alaskans to avoid travel when possible.
“The more that you can avoid non-essential travel, the better off we will be,” she said. “If someone in your family recently traveled to a high-risk area, socially distancing yourself from them is really important … We have seen from the China data that families definitely have a higher likelihood of transmitting the disease amongst each other.”
Some Alaskans have called for the governor to ban all non-essential travel to the state. He stopped short of the measure, but said it is being considered, and said a travel ban could be implemented in the future.
“Nothing is off the table,” he said. “We do also have discussions about balancing the movement of people and the economy. Nonetheless, the health and safety of Alaskans takes precedence.”
While the border between the U.S. and Canada is closed, Dunleavy said some border crossings between Alaska and Canada will remain open for work-related travel.
The state recommends that only individuals who are already experiencing symptoms seek a test. Zink said the swab equipment used to collect specimens for testing is a factor limiting the number of tests that can be performed in Alaska. Due to the limited number of tests, she said the state will only perform tests when there is reason to believe an individual has the virus.
“If people are not symptomatic (the test) is not nearly as useful. It’s not a good time to get the test if you just traveled,” Zink said, adding that if people are tested too early, they may test negative for the virus even if they are in fact carriers. “It can give people a false sense of safety and protection, and that’s why it’s best used in combination with other history.”
According to Zink, many large cities throughout the U.S. have run out of the equipment necessary to test. This has caused a delay in the sampling process, which will cause a high jump in the number of cases in the Lower 48 in the next few days.
Zink urged individuals who feel even mild symptoms to stay away from other people.
“The little things really do matter,” Zink said. “The actions that we do now can literally save the lives of yourself and other Alaskans.”
The governor said he will announce a detailed economic plan Friday afternoon. The state plan would build on a federal plan that aims to support people who are unemployed due to the virus.
“We have both a health crisis and an economic crisis,” he said. “It was a result of state action, in our effort to combat the virus. When we asked bars, distilleries, bowling alleys, movie theaters, restaurants to stop having clients in their establishments, of course this causes an economic hardship, on not just the business owner, but the employees. We are having a number of employees that are being laid off as a result of this, and we take that very seriously.”
“We have to stabilize our economy, we know that. This is a government-induced situation,” he said. “We believe the government needs to be involved in this particular case.”
The Kodiak Island Borough building, which houses both borough and city offices, was closed to the public Thursday evening.
“The public is asked to conduct all borough building business via email, telephone, postal mail, or to use the drop boxes in the lower parking lot at 710 Mill Bay Road,” the borough said in a notice posted on their website.
The Kodiak Daily Mirror provides free access to content that contains “call to action” information on matters of community health and safety. Coverage about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is consistent with this practice. Please consider subscribing and help us to ensure we can continue to offer this service and support your local newspaper.