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First known patient to die in Alaska of COVID-19 had not traveled, was social distancing, family says

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Relatives of the woman who died from COVID-19 in Anchorage are asking others to stay home and practice social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.

It’s unclear where 63-year-old Gloria Jane Merculief contracted the virus, her family said. She had not recently traveled and had only left her Anchorage home to run minimal errands in recent weeks.

Merculief fell ill less than a week before her death. She woke on Saturday, March 21, with stomach flu symptoms and was dizzy and weak, her family said in an online statement.

Hello everyone, the media is asking for more information about my sister so the family put out an official statement....

Posted by Hop Demientieff on Saturday, March 28, 2020

Merculief went to the Alaska Native Medical Center on Monday and was tested for COVID-19 before she was sent home to quarantine. Her health quickly deteriorated, her family said, and on Wednesday morning she was taken back to the hospital by ambulance because she was struggling to breathe and could not stand on her own.

She was admitted to the hospital, and the COVID-19 test came back positive. Doctors also told the family that Merculief had pneumonia.

The next day, nurses told the family it was only a matter of time before Merculief died. The family was unable to say goodbye in person but said they were thankful that nurses held the phone to Merculief’s ear so she could hear their voices and played her favorite songs, including “You are my sunshine.”

“The most difficult part of all of this, beyond Gloria’s suffering, was knowing that she was without family during her last hours,” her family said in the statement. “We prayed for the nurses that were there with her and had faith that they were doing their best to comfort her and care for Gloria in a good way.”

She died Friday morning.

Her family said Merculief was good natured and would “laugh until tears rolled down her face."

“Gloria’s life was filled with adventure from riding in our family’s houseboat up and down the Yukon river, to riding her bike from California to Seattle, to flying solo in a plane out of the Honolulu airport when she was stationed there in the Navy in the 1980’s,” the family wrote.

Daughter Raven Marsden remembers how her mother “spoiled the heck out of me.” Merculief went out of her way to care for her children and was filled with love, she said.

In recent years, Marsden said her mom struggled with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gloria Merculief, 63, passed away last week after testing positive for COVID-19. Her husband Boris Merculief is at left. (Photo Courtesy of LaVerne Xilegg Demientieff)

Neither Merculief nor her husband had traveled recently and they had not knowingly been in contact with anyone who had traveled, her family said.

“It is unknown how she contracted COVID-19 but it likely happened when she and her husband were running errands (which was minimal as they were homebodies and they were also social distancing as much as they could). We will never really know,” the family said. “We do know that social distancing at this time is essential to stop the spread of the virus to the ones you love and to those that are most vulnerable.”

Merculief was the first COVID-19-related death in Alaska. A 76-year-old man from Southeast Alaska died in a Washington state hospital earlier this month after contracting COVID-19.

Marsden said she wants people to take the virus seriously and hopes people will take precautions to prevent the spread.

“At first before that happened, I thought this whole coronavirus was a joke and people were freaking out and then I found that my mom had it,” she said. “I look at everything differently. And I posted on Facebook, ‘Please stay home. If you have to work, then go right home. Don’t do anything, don’t touch anything — just go home.’”

There were more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska as of Saturday.

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