Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Monday evening that all libraries, archives and museums in the state must remain closed until the end of the month to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In Kodiak, the announcement was met with closed doors. The library and museums, including the Kodiak History Museum and Alutiiq Museum, had already announced they would remain closed until the threat of the virus decreased.
The governor also signed legislation that provides $4 million in state funds to the Department of Health and Social Services. The funding will be used to fill temporary positions to travel as needed to rural communities to monitor and screen for the virus.
As of Monday evening, 250 people in Alaska had been tested for the coronavirus. Three people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Alaska, including a cargo plane pilot who was transiting through Anchorage last week. On Monday evening, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that two older men in Fairbanks tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the Kodiak Public Health Center, people in Kodiak may have been tested for the virus, but no one in Kodiak has tested positive. All health clinics in Kodiak have the ability to collect specimens to be tested for the virus. The specimens would then be sent to state-owned labs in Anchorage or Fairbanks, or privately owned labs in Washington. The public health center will provide only limited information about any confirmed cases in Kodiak to protect the identity of patients.
A Local Emergency Planning Committee originally scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed until further notice, as part of an effort to increase social distance.
According to Kodiak Island Borough Manager Michael Powers, all non-essential government meetings have been canceled at this time, including all meetings of the Consolidation Committee, Kodiak Fisheries Work Group, and Planning and Zoning Commission, among others.
Borough assembly meetings and work sessions will move to a teleconferencing format beginning next week. The City Council meetings may also transition to a conference call format, according to a news release.
Powers said the decision to cancel the LEPC meeting will not impact the local preparation for the coronavirus, because the group, led by Kodiak City Fire Department Fire Chief Jim Mullican, is tasked with emergency planning, not emergency response.
“We’re well into the response,” Powers said, adding that the goal of the meeting was to clarify the role of the LEPC moving forward.
However, Stacy Studebaker, a Kodiak resident and a member of the LEPC, said she is concerned about the decision to cancel the meeting.
The LEPC “is the only KIB group of community members and agencies that meets quarterly to ‘plan’ for emergency scenarios. I have been a member for over 10 years and seeing the meeting delays and now this cancellation was a shock. If there was ever a group that SHOULD be meeting right now, this is it. It should have been meeting since the coronavirus hit China and began to spread. An intelligent, proactive, coordinated approach between agencies for dealing with the virus is badly needed in our community right now rather than a piecemeal series of announcements,” Studebaker wrote in an email.
Powers said the coronavirus response in Kodiak is coordinated by the Emergency Services Council, led by City Manager Mike Tvenge. The council has been meeting regularly since the beginning of this month.
While Anchorage moved to close all restaurants and bars on Monday to prevent the spread of the virus, the Kodiak council has not taken that step. Powers emphasized the importance of “social distancing,” which entails keeping a distance of 6 feet between people and refraining from meetings.
“Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (6 feet) from others when possible. Individuals and families should plan to stay home and plan activities in places where people do not cluster, such as going for a hike,” according to a news release from the Kodiak Area Emergency Services Organization.
The goal of “social distancing” is to “flatten the curve,” Powers said, referring to the effort to slow the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming the health system.
“If you’re really serious about flattening the curve, you have to get people to hunker down in their homes,” Powers said.
President Donald Trump recommended on Monday to avoid gathering in groups larger than 10. He also recommended avoiding discretionary travel, bars, restaurants and food courts.
Dunleavy said that if an Alaskan was diagnosed with COVID-19, that might trigger a statewide ban on restaurants, bars and places of entertainment.
State physician Dr. Anne Zink said that if Alaskans make responsible decisions on a personal level, the state may be able to avoid mandated travel restrictions.
“The more that we are able to restrict our own movement, the better off we’ll be at this time,” Zink said.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued instructions to travelers on Sunday, urging Alaskans to self-isolate for 14 days when returning to the state after trips to areas impacted by the coronavirus.
The department said that people should stay at home, avoid contact with other household members, and not go to work for 14 days after returning from any area with a CDC Level 3 travel health notice, including China, Iran, South Korea and Europe.
For travelers returning from anywhere else, including the rest of the U.S., the department recommends minimizing contact with people as much as possible, practicing social distancing and self monitoring.
“This may mean not going to work or school if you cannot safely be distanced from others – especially if you traveled in a location where community transmission is occurring,” according to the statement.
The department also recommends travelers take their temperature with a thermometer two times a day, monitor for fever, and watch for cough or trouble breathing. Returning travelers should avoid crowded places, limit their activities in public, keep a distance of 6 feet from others, call their healthcare provider if sick, and call ahead before going to see a doctor for any reason.
“This is not a reason to panic,” Dunleavy said. “We do believe the infection will come to the state of Alaska … What we’re trying to do is help our medical establishment take into account what may be coming our way.”