State officials announced 10 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska on Wednesday evening, bringing the state’s total to 143, with no new deaths or hospitalizations.
Of the new confirmed cases, there were three in Fairbanks, two each in Anchorage and North Pole, one each in Juneau and Ketchikan, and Wasilla saw its first confirmed case.
One of the new cases involved someone age 19-29, eight were 30-59 and 1 was over the age of 60, said Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. Two were close contacts of individuals who tested positive, and the rest remain under investigation, Zink said in a media briefing Wednesday evening. So far, 5,022 tests have been completed, Zink said.
In Fairbanks, a third resident at the Denali Center — a care facility operated by Foundation Health Partners — tested positive for COVID-19, officials there said. The resident, a woman over the age of 90, was doing well along with two other residents who previously tested positive for the disease, center administrator Liz Woodyard said Wednesday afternoon.
Also Wednesday, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services commissioner Adam Crum said the state was extending two of its health mandates: one pertaining to the closure of restaurants and bars to dine-in service and the closure of entertainment facilities such as theaters and gyms, and another mandate related to the closure of state-operated libraries and archives to the public.
Both of those mandates have been “extended until rescinded,” Crum said.
Other Alaska health mandates currently in effect include a statewide shelter-in-place order (along with the closure of nonessential businesses) and an in-state travel ban. Both of those mandates will be reevaluated by April 11, state officials said. People traveling to Alaska from outside the state must also self-quarantine themselves for two weeks.
Health care workers and officials continue to learn more about the virus and the symptoms it presents, Zink said. Initially, the traditional symptoms of COVID-19 were fever, shortness of breath, coughing and body aches. But now, there’s more evidence that an early symptom could be a loss of taste or smell. And, particularly in the elderly, some may experience nausea, diarrhea or vomiting, Zink said.
One challenging aspect of the disease is that others may not show those symptoms until as many as 13 days after being exposed, Zink said. Some people may even have such mild symptoms that they might not realize they were sick at all.
“And that’s making it really difficult to control this disease,” Zink said.
One concern is that people who feel well don’t realize they might be sick and could be possibly spreading illness to others who are more vulnerable and might become much sicker from a COVID-19 infection, Zink said.
Preventing that spread, whether someone feels sick or not, is key.
Zink asked that N95 and surgical masks be reserved for health care workers, but said that homemade masks could be a way to potentially prevent accidentally spreading the illness to others. But a homemade mask likely won’t prevent someone from contracting the illness, she said, highlighting other recommending disease prevention measures.
“Realize that the mask is not going to prevent the disease completely,” Zink said. “And so, the social distancing matters, the hand washing matters, the not touching your face matters, those things are just as important if not more important.”
Zink said that in an ideal world, Alaska wouldn’t experience a peak in COVID-19 cases, where the need outpaces the state’s health care capacity. Instead, she said she hoped that cases would occur on a flatter curve, as treatments, vaccines and more capacity become available.
“That’s the hope — that there is no peak,” Zink said.
But, she said, the state is preparing for worst-case scenarios.
In places like Washington state, where there was an outbreak of COVID-19, officials took steps to stem further spread through cluster investigations and stricter social distancing, she said. Similarly, Alaska might see a cluster of outbreaks in certain places and then officials would work to minimize that spread.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a dance around the state,” Zink said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy compared the pandemic to watching a large storm’s approach. Sometimes, that storm never materializes, he said. Similarly, Dunleavy said his hope is that a lot of people won’t get sick and will not die from the illness.
“I hope and pray — and I think most Alaskans do — that this is the pandemic that wasn’t,” Dunleavy said.