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Alaska News

Your questions about the new coronavirus, answered

Travelers Meredith Ponder, left, and Coleby Hanisch, both of Des Moines, Iowa, wear masks to remind them not to touch their faces as they ride a train at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in SeaTac, Wash. Health officials are encouraging the general public not to buy medical masks to ensure there are enough for health care workers. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Daily News asked readers what they want to know about the new coronavirus and the illness it causes, COVID-19.

Here are some answers, based on information from state public health officials, local leaders and information from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you have more questions or suggestions for coverage, ask away in the form at the bottom of this article.

What is the novel coronavirus?

The new coronavirus is one of many coronaviruses that exist worldwide. The family of coronaviruses causes several diseases, from the common cold to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new, or novel, coronavirus.

While the illness originated in Wuhan, China, cases of the virus have now been confirmed in countries around the globe and in the Lower 48.

As of Saturday, the state of Alaska had tested 14 people for the illness and all came back negative. Six tests were still pending.

Symptoms of the illness include a fever, a cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms could show up between two and 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus, according to the CDC.

Can a person spread the illness to others even if they are not showing symptoms?

Speaking to state legislators in Juneau on Wednesday, Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said that while some people have tested positive for the illness a day before showing symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can spread it.

“It is unclear if that is enough virus to transmit the disease,” Zink said.

How does testing work?

There are currently two labs in Alaska, run by the state’s health department, that have scientists who can run tests.

The Daily News recently visited one of the state’s public health laboratories — you can learn more about that process here.

By Friday, there was a limited number of CDC testing kits available in Alaska, enough to test as many as 200 people.

Some state leaders are raising concerns about the decline in funding for state’s public health system and how that may affect Alaska’s preparedness.

Who can get tested?

In terms of who can be tested for coronavirus, state health officials have said that they are prioritizing testing for certain people until there are more tests available in Alaska.

In order to get tested, someone would not only have to show symptoms of COVID-19, but also the person must have been in close contact with someone else who has been diagnosed.

Or, someone might be tested if all other diagnoses have been ruled out and they have previously traveled to places health officials are calling “affected geographic areas” with confirmed cases of the illness, like Kirkland, Washington, or northern Italy, according to an announcement from the state Department of Health and Social Services.

Someone might also be tested if they are hospitalized with a fever and a severe illness like pneumonia and there are no other possible diagnoses for their symptoms.

How many people have been tested in Alaska?

The state is updating a website daily with the number of tests that have been administered and the number of people being investigated. As of Saturday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Alaska; 14 people had tested negative, and another six were undergoing testing.

Am I at risk if I traveled through the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recently?

Many flights to and from Alaska have layovers at the Sea-Tac. And with several cases of COVID-19 stemming from a long-term care facility in the Seattle area, it’s understandable why Alaskans might have questions about flying through that airport.

“Right now, we do not believe that Sea-Tac Airport is at risk,” Zink said Wednesday. She said the state health department was not putting out any travel advisories for the airport itself.

On Tuesday, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport said it was taking new steps in response to the virus, including installing more hand sanitizers throughout the airport and increased cleaning frequencies for elevator buttons, escalator handrails and other “high touch point areas.”

How effective is hand sanitizer?

While hand sanitizer is flying off the shelves at supermarkets and drug stores, health officials have emphasized the effectiveness of hand-washing at getting rid of the virus. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with both soap and water is the best, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state’s epidemiologist.

Hand sanitizer with an alcohol content above 60% also works if you’re away from a sink and soap.

How long can the virus last on surfaces?

According to the CDC, there hasn’t been an instance of person-to-surface transmission of the virus, but novel coronavirus “may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a list of approved disinfectants for cleaning the virus.

Should I buy and use masks?

Health officials are encouraging the general public to not buy masks. They’re worried about a shortage of masks for health care workers who might come into contact with large quantities of the virus while treating patients, Zink said.

But masks do help keep people who are already sick from spreading the illness to others, Zink said.

What else can I do?

Stay home if you feel sick. If you have to cough, cough into an elbow or a tissue.

Also, “stop touching your face," Zink said. “We all touch our face a lot. Don’t do it.”

"It’s really hard,” she added.

ADN reporter Michelle Theriault Boots contributed reporting.

Do you have more questions or suggestions for coverage? Ask them in the form below:

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