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Fairbanks death is first tied to COVID-19 in Interior Alaska; confirmed cases rise to 171 statewide

Downtown Fairbanks, Alaska and the Chena River. Photographed Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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Two more Alaskans with COVID-19 have died, including one who was out of state, and 14 new confirmed cases have emerged, Alaska officials said Saturday.

A 73-year-old woman with underlying medical conditions was admitted to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital on March 25 and tested positive for the illness caused by the new coronavirus, according to state health officials and local hospital officials.

The patient died Friday, Foundation Health Partners — which runs the hospital — said in a statement. It marks the first death tied to COVID-19 in Interior Alaska.

A middle-aged man from Anchor Point died from COVID-19 on March 29 while outside Alaska, according to a statement from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. His death brings the total number of Alaskans who have died of the illness to five.

“Two of these five acquired their infections and passed away outside of the state, but these are all Alaskans,” DHSS commissioner Adam Crum said in the statement. "Our thoughts are with these communities where these individuals lived and with all those affected by these losses.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the new deaths were “a heartbreaking reminder of how important it is for all of us to continue doing our part to slow down the transmission of this virus by strictly adhering to the social distancing and travel mandates and other health advisories.”

The state records cases by the residency of people who test positive for COVID-19.

Anchorage had seven new confirmed cases and Fairbanks had three, while North Pole, Juneau and Eagle River-Chugiak each had one new confirmed case of the virus, state officials said. The 14th case announced Saturday involves the Anchor Point man who died out of state.

Sixteen people in the state of Alaska have been hospitalized for COVID-19 so far.

Excluding the Anchor Point resident, the new cases announced Saturday include seven men and six women, health officials said. One is between 10 and 19 years old, two are in their 20s, two are in their 30s, four are in the 40s, two are in their 50s, one is in their 60s and one is in their 70s, officials said.

The state said it is reporting cases based on a 24-hour cycle that runs from midnight to 11:59 p.m. daily. Accordingly, the cases announced Saturday stem from the 24-hour reporting period Friday.

On Friday, health officials issued an alert recommending that Alaskans wear face coverings in public in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Given that asymptomatic people can spread the illness without realizing they’re sick, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said homemade masks are an important way to prevent transmitting the illness to others.

But Zink cautioned that the masks won’t necessarily protect the person wearing the mask from getting sick themselves. Instead, proper social distancing and enhanced hygiene are better for keeping the illness away from you and others, ZInk said.

“This is just another added layer of protection,” Zink said.

The masks should cover both your nose and mouth. You should wash your hands after you remove the mask, and try to avoid touching your face while taking the mask off. Masks should be washed frequently, ideally after each use.

The state’s 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.

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