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Coronavirus cases emerge on Kenai Peninsula as Alaska’s tally rises to 22

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Seven new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Alaska on Saturday, state officials announced.

The new confirmed cases include one case each in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sterling and Soldotna, while Ketchikan saw an additional three cases, bringing that community’s total to six overall. The uptick in cases in Ketchikan prompted officials there to issue an emergency proclamation that strongly urges residents to shelter in place, following a similar order in Anchorage.

Statewide, as of Sunday, there are 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19: Anchorage now has six cases, Fairbanks has seven and Seward has one. The cases announced Saturday in Sterling and Soldotna are the first to be confirmed in those communities.

All of the seven people diagnosed with the upper respiratory illness Saturday are adults, according to an announcement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. None of them were hospitalized, the statement said.

Both the new cases in Soldotna and Anchorage were related to recent travel in the Lower 48, the department said.

The other cases “were non-travel related and are currently being investigated,” according to the statement.

State epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said that all of the people who have become sick with COVID-19 are cooperating with health officials.

“All of the new cases are isolating themselves at home and their close contacts are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms,” McLaughlin said in the statement. “Our thoughts go out to these people, their families and their communities."

All three individuals involved in the new Ketchikan cases self-isolated once they began experiencing symptoms of the illness, according to a joint announcement from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the City of Ketchikan and the City of Saxman.

“Two of the individuals were close contacts to the first identified positive case in Ketchikan. One of the individuals was a close contact with the second identified positive case in Ketchikan,” officials said.

Citing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent health mandates and concerns about potentially overwhelming Ketchikan’s health care system, Ketchikan officials said that “it is now imperative that the citizens of the Borough follow strict guidance to hunker down, shelter in place, and stay home, in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

The shelter-in-place emergency proclamation states that healthy residents may still go to grocery stores, but are asked not to linger. Emergency services in the borough will continue and grocery stores will still be stocked, officials said.

Ketchikan officials asked people to stay home and use electronic communication for business whenever possible. Non-essential businesses were also asked to close for two weeks.

“Because the COVID-19 virus is so highly contagious, it has already spread rapidly in Ketchikan,” the statement said. “In the last few days we have gone from one positive case to six positive cases. This rapid spread is known as exponential growth. If the growth continues at the current rate, by the end of the week Ketchikan could have over 20 positive cases of COVID-19 in the community.”

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in a statement that in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, everyone needs to do as much as they can.

“Social distancing is critical," Zink said. "Stay home as much as you can and, even if you’re healthy, stay away from those more vulnerable to severe illness, including those 60 or older, or anyone who might have an underlying medical condition.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the borough’s proclamation as an order. The story has been updated to reflect that the emergency proclamation “strongly urges” residents to shelter in place.

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