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Officials announced 17 new COVID-19 cases in Alaska Wednesday evening, bringing the state’s total to 59. This marks the largest single-day increase in Alaska’s caseload, with the majority of new diagnoses in Anchorage, which saw 11 new cases. No cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Kodiak as of Wednesday. 

An individual from Homer tested positive for the virus. However, the individual was tested in Anchorage after returning from the Lower 48, and has not returned to Homer since becoming ill, according to a news release from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Two new cases were diagnosed in Fairbanks, and three in Ketchikan. Three patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska chief medical officer.

Eight of the newly diagnosed patients are men and nine are women, Zink said. Three are between 18 and 29, nine between 30 and 59, and five over 60. One case is associated with travel, and three are associated with close contact to another confirmed case. Thirteen of the cases are still under investigation.

As of Tuesday, 1,860 people in Alaska had been tested for the virus. 

More than 60,000 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, which has caused more than 900 deaths in the U.S. 

Zink said that thanks to a new shipment of testing swabs and a new ability to produce swabs in Alaska, the state will increase its testing capacity moving forward. 

“We have decided to be a little more aggressive in testing than the current CDC guidelines,” she said. “We’re actually recommending a lot more testing than the national guidelines.”

In Kodiak, the number of tests performed remains relatively low as local health care providers have recommended reserving testing capacity for those with symptoms, a history of travel to a virus-infected area, and those belonging to high-risk populations. 

While Kodiak still has no confirmed cases of the virus, Zink said that it’s important for community members to take actions to prevent the spread of the infection.

“The earlier we act on these pandemics and this infection, the better off we are,” she said. “Earlier, people will think that we are doing way too much, and later on people will say that we are doing way too little.”

The information gained from the outbreaks in Anchorage and other locations in the state can help Kodiak authorities better address the pandemic when it reaches the island, Zink said. 

“When you have a community that doesn’t have the disease process, you’re a little more protected,” she said. “If a community like Kodiak doesn’t have it, do everything you can do not to get it.”

Health mandates closing libraries and museums, and banning restaurants from offering dine-in services in Alaska are set to expire April 1, but Dunleavy said the mandates will likely be extended. If the caseload in Alaska continues to rise, Dunleavy said more health mandates may be on the way.

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