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Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday declared a public health emergency in response to what is still an anticipated outbreak of the new coronavirus in Alaska.
No confirmed cases have been announced in Alaska yet.
“We believe that will change shortly,” Dunleavy said.
As of Wednesday, 60 people had been tested, with 46 negative, according to state officials. Fourteen tests are pending.
“We are concerned that there are cases either here or likely coming,” said the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink.
Dunleavy said the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic influenced the timing of the declaration.
“It’s like a slow-moving storm coming our way," he said. "We can see it coming. We wanted to gear up now, so we can access resources.”
The disaster declaration gives the state Department of Health and Social Services power to exercise state isolation and quarantine measures, according to the governor’s office. It speeds supply purchasing, the hiring of temporary staff and receiving disaster relief funding.
And it creates a “unified command structure” within three agencies: DHSS; the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which oversees the Alaska National Guard; and the Department of Public Safety, overseeing law enforcement.
Governors in other states, including California, New York and Washington, all of which have had confirmed cases, also have made emergency declarations.
Though it’s likely many people will get sick from the illness, DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said, most will not experience a serious case of COVID-19.
On Wednesday morning, the state wasn’t mandating any school closures or enforcing the cancellation of mass gatherings, Dunleavy said. However, the governor said that if the situation warranted it, the state would enforce certain mandates.
The health department recommended the practice of social distancing, which means staying six feet away from others. This is especially important for people who are older than 60 or have underlying medical conditions, Zink said.
Zink said there is a difference between social distancing and social isolation. She noted that she had told her own mother, who is over the age of 60 and has a lung condition, not to visit.
“I said, ‘This isn’t the time for you to fly,’” Zink said. “I have my kids calling her as often as possible to touch base and to make sure she’s not socially isolated while she’s socially distanced.”
Zink recommended first calling your health care provider if you intend to seek care in Seattle.
Zink said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its list of underlying medical conditions that may increase the risk of a more serious case of COVID-19. This includes people with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.
COVID-19 an illness caused by the novel coronavirus and includes symptoms of fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Health officials have continually stressed that if you are sick, you should call your health care provider first.