The number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alaska rose to 157 on Friday as hospitalizations increased slightly and no new deaths were reported, according to state officials.
Alaska officials also issued a health alert that strongly urged Alaskans to wear face coverings in public areas, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, where it may be difficult to maintain proper social distancing and stay 6 feet from other people. The health alert follows similar guidance issued Friday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraging people to wear rudimentary face coverings, such as bandannas or homemade masks, in public.
The 11 new Alaska cases announced Friday were scattered across the Municipality of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and the City and Borough of Juneau. Of those people who tested positive for the illness caused by the new coronavirus, five are male and six are female, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. One is between the ages of 10 and 19, another is in their 20s, four are in their 30s, four are in their 40s and one is in their 60s, Zink said.
In a media briefing Friday evening, Zink clarified that the state’s total number of cases — updated daily on the state’s coronavirus response website — reflects only the number of Alaskans who have tested positive. That total tally includes Alaskans who have gotten sick elsewhere and excludes those from Outside who become sick here. Because one of the 11 new cases involves a traveler who is not from Alaska, the state’s tally only rose by 10, to 157, Zink said.
Zink said that the state counts cases in different communities based on where people live, as opposed to where they got sick or where they were tested for COVID-19. That’s why the state’s website shows one case out of Petersburg: There hasn’t been a confirmed case within that community, but a Petersburg resident became sick and died in Washington state. He was the first Alaskan whose death was tied to the new coronavirus.
Two more people have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in Alaska, bringing the cumulative total to 15 statewide, according to the data.
While social distancing, hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces are the primary ways to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, state officials said wearing a face covering — such as a homemade fabric mask — is another way to minimize the spread of the illness. Friday’s health alert recommends, amid a shortage of medical supplies like face masks, “that Alaskans make their own face coverings and wear them in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) -- especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Among the state’s recommendations for wearing a face mask or covering:
• Make sure it covers your mouth and nose, and don’t take it off until you’re at home.
• Avoid touching the front of the covering; take it off by grasping the ear loops or bands and immediately put it in a designated spot for laundering. Between uses, wash the covering in soapy hot water.
• Wash your hands immediately after taking off the covering and before you touch anything else.
• Don’t use N95 or surgical masks; save those for medical workers and first responders.
The health alert also urges Alaskans: “Do not rely on face coverings as the primary way to prevent COVID-19 transmission, and be careful to avoid developing a false sense of security through the use of face coverings. Continue to follow social distancing measures, including maintaining at least six feet between yourself and others, staying at home, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands frequently.”
As of Friday, 6,016 tests have been processed. The state can identify 16 people who have recovered from COVID-19, Zink said, but there are likely many more who have not been tracked.