Six months ago last Saturday, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the state’s first known case of COVID-19.
“This is not a surprise. This is not unusual given what’s happening with this pandemic,” Dunleavy said in the March 12 press conference announcing the development.
At that point, there were 1,200 known cases of the virus in the United States. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency a day later. It took more than another month for the virus to reach Kodiak, when health officials on the island announced the first positive case.
Kodiak Emergency Services Director Mike Tvenge had a similar message to Dunleavy when addressing Kodiak’s first case on April 14.
“We’ve been preparing for this. We hoped it didn’t happen, but it’s here today. Public health is dealing efficiently with this. There is no need to panic at this point or worry about being infected if you protect yourself,” he said at the time.
But life in Kodiak had already begun to change before the virus arrived in town.
In late February, four cruise ships canceled their arrivals in Kodiak. More would follow suit, and in the end, no ships docked in Kodiak this summer.
Shelves at local grocery stores began to empty of cleaning supplies in early March. Kodiak schools went on spring break on March 13 without knowing when they’d come back. In-person classes were delayed until March 27, then May 1, then for the whole semester.
The state mandated that bars and restaurants close to in-person dining on March 18. The same day, the Kodiak Emergency Services Council declared a public health emergency.
Crab Fest and ComFish, two long-standing community events in Kodiak, were postponed until late summer.
By April 14, Kodiak had performed 137 tests for COVID-19, with only one positive. It would stay that way until June 3, when the second positive test result was announced.
By that time, local businesses were feeling the pain from social distancing restrictions and lack of tourist revenue. Federal programs stepped in to help, with businesses getting Paycheck Protection Program dollars, and eventually, money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The city of Kodiak received $11.9 million of the funds and allocated $3 million to help small businesses.
State level restrictions loosened in May, with bars and restaurants beginning to be able to offer in-person dining again.
Kodiak’s case numbers stayed low. July 10 was the first day with multiple cases announced on the same day. Mask wearing, already widespread in Kodiak, became even more widespread when Walmart and Safeway announced mask requirements in mid-July.
The only big virus outbreak Kodiak has experienced in the past six months happened on Aug. 5, when OBI Seafoods announced that 37 workers at its remote processing facility in Alitak had tested positive. All of them were flown to Anchorage for medical care.
Around the same time, the school district announced its intentions to open in person in the fall, with mask requirements and social distancing protocols.
“All of us, we’ve done well to keep COVID out of our community. Our EOC has done a lot, our businesses have done a lot, our parents and our community members have committed. If we can keep it out of our community, we can stay green the whole year,” School Superintendent Larry LeDoux said at the time.
“Our reward right now is that we can open in the most productive educational environment that we can find right now.”
New travel rules requiring visitors to arrive in Alaska with a negative COVID-19 test debuted on Aug. 11. After the Alitak outbreak, case numbers stayed low, with several in mid-August and early September.
Today there have been 71 total cases of COVID-19 on Kodiak. Two are active. There have been around 10,000 tests performed to date.
But numbers in Alaska remain worryingly high.
Alaska's total number of residents to have tested positive for COVID-19 has surpassed 6,000 with state health officials reporting 111 new resident cases last Thursday. The state's alert level, based on the average daily case rate over the last two weeks, has been bumped from "intermediate" to "high."
A "high" alert level means there are more than 10 recorded cases for every 100,000 people in Alaska and represents "widespread community transmission." It also means the state’s case numbers have doubled in a little over a month, having just crossed the 3,000 threshold in early August.
The state announced 75 new cases on Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 6,353. 2,168 have recovered, 247 Alaskans have been hospitalized, and 44 have died.