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The U.S. has surpassed the number of COVID-19 cases in China with over 85,000 cases throughout the country, compared with China’s 81,000 cases.
On Thursday, Alaska saw 10 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total to 69. Of the total, three patients have been hospitalized. Alaska has completed 2,388 tests for the virus.
None of the new cases were travel related, and four were caused by the patients being in close contact with a known COVID-19 case, said Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink at a press conference on Thursday.
Of the new cases, five were from Anchorage, two from Fairbanks, one from Juneau and two from the North Pole.
Four of the cases were male patients and six were female. One was under the age of 18, two were between the ages of 19 and 29, five were between the ages of 30 and 59, and two were over the age of 60.
At the press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy spoke about several bills the state legislature passed to expand unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have been impacted by the pandemic.
“Over the next week we will be having more assistance rolled out for them,” Dunleavy said.
House Bill 308 will waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, increase the weekly benefit of dependents by $75 per week and assist in protecting unemployed workers as a result of the virus, he said.
He also signed SB74, a bill that aims to improve internet access in Alaska schools.
Zink said the state is working to build up the health care system to prepare for a potential of a surge in cases.
“Predictions show that the current infrastructure alone is not going to be enough to handle this disease,” Zink said. “That’s why we are actively looking at our federal resources and creating additional resources here.”
To increase health care capacity, the state is trying to train more emergency medical technicians providers to increase the pool of first responders, build up volunteer groups like Alaska Responds and recruit more workers into the field.
“We know we will need more health care providers,” Zink said.
Hospitals are already seeing limited personal protective gear, and providers have started to recycle their personal protective equipment.
In response to the limited supply of face masks, Alaskans around the state have been hand-sewing masks to donate to hospitals.
Zink said the hand-sewn masks are different from the masks needed to treat COVID-19 patients and cannot be used. However, other garments made by hand, such as gowns and caps, can be used.
Other equipment in short supply include N-95 masks, used to protect providers from the air when they conduct more invasive procedures like swabbing or inserting breathing tubes.
“Having that personal protective gear, we already know it is in short supply and we are working around the clock to try to get that out,” Zink said.
Hospitals have seen how quickly the virus can spread and how easily health care systems have been overrun when surges in COVID-19 cases occur.
In Alaska, which has only 2,000 hospital beds suitable to be used when treating COVID-19 patients, state officials are figuring out different ways to care for patients with less severe symptoms, including how to monitor patients at home and how to establish alternative care sites.
“We can’t get enough beds, enough vents, enough people if we don’t social distance,” Zink said. “Every day that we can buy to get more PPE for the frontline, to get more ventilators, to get more alternative care sites set up, helps us to be able to help you when we see this disease take hold.”
While Kodiak had no confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, city officials announced that about 20 people have been sampled, with two people sampled per day.
City Manager Mike Tvenge spoke during a Kodiak Emergency Operations Center live forum Thursday to answer the community’s frequently asked questions.
The council is made up of the city and borough managers, the city and borough mayors, the Coast Guard Base Kodiak commander, the Kodiak Air Station commander and the Alaska State Troopers Kodiak post commander.
Tvenge also addressed the continued operation of the Kodiak airport, saying that only the governor and the Alaska Department of Transportation commissioner can decide to close the airport.
“At this time the governor has chosen not to close the state airport,” Tvenge said. “Our airport is critical to our community.”
The state is also working to track incoming passengers from out-of-state with “travel declaration” forms that collect information on where passengers have been recently and where they will stay in Alaska.
Anyone flying into Alaska from out of state is required to complete a 14-day quarantine, Tvenge said.
With bear hunting beginning in the spring, Kodiak is expecting an influx of hunters and is working to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.
Kodiak’s seafood processing plants hire a number of out-of-state and international workers. Tvenge said the city is working with processing plants to draft COVID-19 response plans.
Following the city’s release of a “hunker down” order on Monday, Tvenge said people can still go outside as long as they maintain 6 feet of separation among one other. There is currently no curfew for Kodiak.
Tvenge reiterated that hunkering down means keeping distance from others and staying at home as much as possible, except for workers at jobs considered essential.
Essential jobs are listed in the order and include 25 types of business, from health care operations to plumbers and electricians. Businesses not on the list can request to be added by contacting the public information officer.
“Communities that have issued hunker down orders intended to decrease the rapid rise of exposure,” Tvenge said. “The earlier we act, the more we are protected.”
He also advised people considered high-risk, such as older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions, to stay home.
While shopping at Kodiak’s stores, Tvenge reiterated the importance of social distancing and keeping a distance of 6 feet from others. He also advised residents to shop online when possible. Many local stores have their own websites.
“Help work with us to avoid the community spread,” Tvenge said. “We are a proactive community and we can see the benefit of our action.”