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Alaska News

State closes schools until May 1; two new COVID-19 cases in Alaska bring total to 14

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State officials on Friday night ordered all schools to close for at least another month as the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska reached 14.

The state issued a mandate that all public and private schools must be closed through May 1. All after-school activities are also suspended during that period. Students will continue to learn “through distance delivery methods,” according to the mandate.

The state also issued a mandate that applies to Fairbanks North Star Borough and Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and states that “personal care services,” like nail salons and tattoo shops where people are in close contact, must cease operations to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

That mandate goes into effect at 8 a.m. Saturday. It does not apply to urgent and emergent health care needs, the state said.

Also, no gatherings of more than 10 people are permitted in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, “and if a gathering does take place people must be 6 feet apart from each other,” the mandate says.

Both mandates are part of the state’s continued strategy to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The state previously prohibited dine-in services at restaurants and bars and had extended spring break for schools statewide through March 30.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Alaska officials announced two more confirmed cases of the virus, one in Fairbanks and one in Ketchikan.

The Ketchikan case had been previously announced Friday by the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center. That case was travel-related, said the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink.

The other case was in Fairbanks. That case is still being evaluated, Zink said.

During the briefing, Zink said that they were still trying to establish if some of the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 in Fairbanks had been in contact with each other.

“We’re issuing these mandates as well as these alerts, because we are concerned about community spread within Fairbanks, although we haven’t ruled out (the cases are) contact-associated at this time,” Zink said.

Overall, there are now four confirmed cases in Anchorage, six in Fairbanks, three in Ketchikan and one in Seward.

Earlier Friday, the state had issued a “strong advisory” recommending that all nonessential personal, business and medical travel stop immediately, including travel within and outside the state.

Late Friday, the Anchorage mayor issued an emergency “hunker down” order for residents of the city to stay home as much as possible. Officials in the Lower 48 have also issued stay-at-home orders.

Asked whether the state would consider taking similar steps Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said “nothing is ruled out, nothing is off the table," and indicated that community transmission of the illness in Alaska could trigger stricter travel and lockdown mandates.

“We are deploying the right tools at the moment, but it changes moment by moment,” Dunleavy said.

There are still challenges in getting Alaskans tested for the illness, Zink said, including limitations in the supply of swabs used in the initial part of the COVID-19 test.

On Friday afternoon, the city of Anchorage said it could run out of swabs by Sunday, and is asking medical providers for donations. Shortages of testing supplies have been an issue nationwide.

The state is also short on blood supply, said Zink, who asked Alaskans to donate blood.

She also asked that if people in the state have personal protective equipment, like N95 face masks, to donate them locally.

Zink urged continued precautions to blunt the spread of the virus, like washing hands and keeping distance from others.

Speaking to young people, Zink also urged those who might not be as affected physically by the illness to still consider how they could spread it to others.

“This is your time to help your community,” Zink said.

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