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Three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 have emerged in Alaska, increasing the tally in the state to nine, the state’s chief medical officer said Wednesday afternoon.
The three new cases are all travel-related, Dr. Anne Zink said in a news media briefing, with two of the cases in Anchorage and one in Seward. The two positive cases in Anchorage involve older adults while the person who tested positive in Seward is in their 20s, Zink said.
None of the three who tested positive for the illness had to be hospitalized, and they’re all doing well, Zink said.
The City of Seward announced the positive test result for an individual there in an alert Wednesday afternoon.
“The individual had been traveling out of the country, and self-reported and self-isolated when mild symptoms appeared,” the city said. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is in contact with the person and reaching out to those who may have had contact with them, according to the City of Seward.
Zink emphasized the importance of social distancing — limiting public activity and avoiding close contact with others — in curbing the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
So far, Alaska hasn’t had a confirmed case of community transmission, or person-to-person spread of the illness, as all confirmed cases of COVID-19 are associated with people who recently traveled outside of the state.
That factors into the sweeping limitations and mandates the state has placed on entertainment, academic, food and beverage establishments. On Tuesday evening, officials announced statewide measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 as new cases were announced in Ketchikan, Anchorage and Fairbanks. A statewide health mandate that took effect Wednesday evening prohibits dine-in service at restaurants, bars and cafes and closes entertainment facilities like theaters and gyms through the end of March.
“It’s a very important time in the state of Alaska. This is kind of our tipping point,” Zink said. “The better we can do this now, the better off we’re all going to be.”
The measures are preventive, Zink said. In addition to prohibiting dine-in service at bars and restaurants statewide, the state also issued mandates for people who arrive in Alaska from Outside.
“The biggest message I have to get out today is that if you are not feeling well or you traveled from anywhere outside of Alaska, to please stay away from other people,” Zink said.
The actions are also meant to limit spread in order to better accommodate Alaska’s health care capacity, Zink said. Officials are concerned about a large number of people getting sick all at once, which could potentially overwhelm the system.
The mandates “are painful, and they are costly, and they have real consequences to business owners and families and loved ones. These are really hard,” Zink said. “The reason that we are doing them, though, is because we have limited capacity."
States across the country have taken similar preventive measures, Zink said.
“We are no different in the state of Alaska and, in fact, given our geography and distances, we have some really significant challenges there.”
Health officials have continued to encourage good hygiene as a way to prevent the spread of the virus, which is transmitted through droplets in coughs and sneezes. Good hand-washing and keeping a distance from others can reduce and stem the spread.
“Every hour matters," Zink said. “Every day matters.”