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One of Alaska’s first confirmed coronavirus patients tells his story

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A Ketchikan man who contracted the illness caused by the new coronavirus is speaking out about his experience.

In a social media post and an interview with the Ketchikan Daily News, he described his symptoms, how he was tested and his experience communicating with Alaska public health officials.

As of Wednesday morning, Glenn Brown, the attorney for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, is one of nine people statewide who have confirmed cases of the virus. Officials have not said any of the people with confirmed cases have been hospitalized.

Brown said in a Facebook post that he was feeling better and was notified by public health officials that he’d tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon.

“I became sick Saturday morning with fever, headache, general achiness and chills,” Brown wrote.

Brown said he has “no idea” how he contracted the illness.

“I interacted with no one in recent weeks who was exhibiting obvious symptoms,” he wrote.

According to a statement Tuesday from the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center saying one of its employees tested positive for the virus, the employee had a history of travel to the Lower 48. The Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday confirmed Brown is the employee.

Ketchikan and Gravina Island, where the airport is located at top right. (Marc Lester/ADN archive)

The Ketchikan Daily News reported that Brown had recently traveled to Oregon and Juneau before returning to Ketchikan on March 9.

Brown said that although his symptoms “had largely subsided by late Sunday afternoon,” he still went to get tested for several illnesses on Monday.

After public health officials told Brown his diagnosis, he said that he went through more than an hour of questions with them, he told the Ketchikan Daily News.

“I used everything from cellphone records to work calendars to debit card bills, to recall everybody that I may have had contact with,” Brown told the Ketchikan Daily News. “I wanted to provide that information to public health, (so) that they could alert those people and really hope to kind of arrest this thing.”

Brown told the paper that public health officials focused on two days before he developed symptoms of the illness. Brown had been “working closely with borough staff and upper management” in those days as part of his job, the paper reported.

“I apologize for causing undue concern for anyone, especially my co-workers at the Borough,” Brown said in the Facebook post.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough employees in direct contact with Brown were instructed to self-quarantine for two weeks, according to the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center statement.

The statement also said that the borough had hired a service to disinfect the now-closed White Cliff Building, which houses the Ketchikan Borough offices.

According to the Ketchikan Daily News, the last time Brown was at the borough’s White Cliff Building was Friday.

The paper reported that as of Tuesday night, there were no plans to test people who had been in direct contact with Brown.

A public information officer for Ketchikan’s Emergency Operations Center told the Ketchikan Daily News that she understood that to be tested, people would need to have “several” symptoms of the virus.

Besides a heaviness in his chest, “akin to a mild bronchitis,” Brown’s symptoms had mostly gone away, he wrote.

“I would also ask that you join me and all of Ketchikan to actively minimize community transmission so that we can protect our seniors or other medically vulnerable folks in Ketchikan,” Brown wrote. “I pray that we all make it through this largely unharmed, and together.”

The first person in Alaska to test positive for COVID-19 was an air cargo pilot who arrived at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on March 11, officials announced last week. He went through the airport’s North Terminal, which is separate from the domestic terminal.

Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said last week the man had self-isolated and was “stable."

On Monday, officials said two older men in Fairbanks were diagnosed with the illness. Both had recently traveled to the Lower 48, Zink said, but were not traveling together.

In addition to the Anchorage case, the case in Ketchikan and the two in Fairbanks, officials on Tuesday announced that two more people had become sick with the virus -- one in Fairbanks and one in Anchorage -- bringing the total number of confirmed cases as of Wednesday morning to six.

Zink said that both of those cases were also travel-related. None of the three people who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday were hospitalized, Zink said.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital released a statement Tuesday saying a woman with a history of recent travel had tested positive for COVID-19.

“She self-isolated prior to testing,” the statement said. “This patient has been notified and is in stable condition and does not require hospitalization.”

A University of Alaska Fairbanks employee was one of the people who had recently tested positive for the virus in Alaska, university officials said Tuesday.

An internal email advised anyone who had used the O’Neill Building, which houses the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, to stay home and monitor themselves for two weeks.

State and local officials have taken a series of steps to stem the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska, including closing schools, calling on hospitals to halt elective surgeries and shutting down dine-in service at all restaurants, bars, breweries, cafes and similar businesses.

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