Even as businesses begin reopening, the Kodiak Emergency Operation Center remains ready to respond to an outbreak of the virus in Kodiak, Emergency Services Council Director Mike Tvenge said during a public broadcast forum on Thursday.
Despite a lack of new cases, the EOC will continue to keep resources in place to respond to a potential outbreak, including the alternate care site, located in the North Star Elementary School gym and operated by the Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.
“We will continue this until we feel the need to release them,” Tvenge said.
Tvenge reported increased incoming traffic to the island, as the summer fishing season gains steam. The Kodiak Airport saw 171 arrivals and 105 departures between Monday and Wednesday, averaging 57 arrivals and 35 departures per day.
Some independent fishermen have been flying to Kodiak recently in search of employment or en route to remote fishing sites, Tvenge said.
“I just ask that when you come in from out of state or even intrastate, please respect the quarantine mandates and the social distancing required,” he said. “All I can say is — use your common sense.”
There are currently 12 vessels under quarantine in the Kodiak harbor, up from six last week and three the week before. Two vessels have completed their mandatory quarantine, up from one last week.
The harbormaster’s office is staffed with eight additional personnel to assist with issuing the Kodiak harbor use agreement. The personnel are members of the Alaska National Guard, but they will dress in civilian clothing and will not be involved in the enforcement of governor-issued health mandates, according to a spokesperson for the Alaska National Guard.
Tvenge reported that seafood processing plant managers in Kodiak are taking “impressive” measures to keep workers and the community safe, noting that plants are hiring local employees, taking temperatures of employees every morning, spacing workers out and implementing hygiene measures within the plants.
“Of course, there is always risk with close encounters in the processing plants,” Tvenge said.
Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum spoke on Wednesday about the importance of protecting Alaska commercial fisheries from possible coronavirus outbreaks through increased testing capacity.
“The federal government and the White House have really put a priority on protecting the Alaska fishing industry to make sure we protect this food supply for the rest of the country,” Crum said. “We are receiving even more testing machines.”
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said that testing will be critical to prevent outbreaks in the state, particularly in relation to travel.
“It feels like a wave that we are keeping in front of,” she said. “With fishing, and a lot of people moving around related to that industry, I worked closely with the federal government to try to secure a significant portion of additional testing. Over 100,000 additional tests that can be done specifically for that,” Zink said.
The new testing machines will go to Cordova, Bristol Bay and the Southeast to deal with incoming commercial fishermen, Crum said.
The number of new coronavirus cases recorded in Alaska continues to be low, even as some businesses in other parts of the state have reopened. In the last 14 days, 37 new cases were reported, averaging less than three new cases per day.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy attributed the slow spread of the virus in the state to Alaska’s location, the mandatory 14-day quarantine for out-of-state travelers, social distancing, and steps taken by rural villages to limit travel.
“I think all of these combined help Alaska have some of the lowest numbers,” he said. “We will see more infections. We will see more cases. We will watch it very closely and we are going to make sure that we handle it with the best science and data and medicine that we have.”
Kodiak has seen one only case of COVID-19, reported April 16 and later confirmed to be recovered. The Alaska case count was 374 as of Thursday, of which 291 were considered recovered.
As of Thursday, 363 tests for the virus had been conducted on Kodiak residents, up from 322 the previous week. The Kodiak testing rate amounts to 279 tests per 10,000 residents, lower than the statewide rate of 332 tests per 10,000 residents.
“One result of seeing only one recovered case in Kodiak is complacency,” Tvenge said. “Some folks feel safe and therefore ignore the protective measures that have been established.”
Public health nurse Elsa DeHart said that reflects a drop in the testing rate in Kodiak, despite testing providers reporting increased testing capacity.
“From what I hear from providers, it just seems like people are not as anxious to be tested at this time,” DeHart said, explaining an apparent decline in the daily testing rate. “I think once we get a bunch of cases, it’s going to be more important.”
DeHart urged anyone who experiences unusual symptoms, however mild, to seek testing.
“We’re all just waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “When opening things up, it’s just waiting to pop back up again, but we’re ready.”