Alaska News

Alaska saw a week of more COVID-19 cases and extensions of statewide restrictions

COVID-19 cases in Alaska
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The number of people with COVID-19 in Alaska continued to increase on Saturday with 11 new cases announced by the state’s health department, bringing the state’s total to 257.

The updated numbers come at the end of a week in which Alaska saw its sharpest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases (Monday’s 22 new positives) and state officials took additional steps to limit the spread of the illness statewide, extending social distancing and travel mandates and closing schools through the end of the school year.

New cases announced Saturday include a Wasilla resident, as well as nine more Anchorage residents and an individual who lives in Craig — the first among residents of that Southeast Alaska community. So far, 121 Municipality of Anchorage residents and 10 Matanuska-Susitna Borough residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

The updated numbers also include the eighth COVID-19-related death of an Alaskan, the third announced this week. A 73-year-old woman with underlying health conditions died Friday at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, according to officials from Foundation Health Partners, which operates the hospital. The death is the second to occur in Interior Alaska.

Two Alaskans have died from COVID-19 while out of state. Most who died were over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions, though an Anchorage woman in her 40s and an Anchor Point man in his 30s are among the fatalities.

The state had received COVID-19 test results for a total of 7,732 Alaska residents through Friday. The state of Alaska does not publish information on the number of tests that are outstanding.

In Anchorage, a person who tested positive for COVID-19 is staying in isolation at the Dempsey Anderson Ice Arena on West Northern Lights Boulevard, said Carolyn Hall, spokeswoman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

The arena, which contains two ice rinks, was recently converted into an isolation and quarantine medical site for people sick with COVID-19 who do not have anywhere else to recover, including people experiencing homelessness. Hall said the city couldn’t disclose any information about the person in isolation at the ice arena.

Sixty-three Alaskans have recovered from the illness, according to the state, and a total of 31 have been hospitalized, including three new hospitalizations Friday.

[Juneau correctional center employee tests positive for COVID-19]

The state’s case count numbers reflect the number of positive test results between midnight and 11:59 p.m. on the previous day, meaning that cases of COVID-19 reported on Saturday represent the number of people who tested positive for the disease on Friday.

In addition, the state reports cases based on a person’s residency. They don’t necessarily reflect where a person is at the time of their positive test result or where they became ill.

As case counts rose, state officials extended measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 and prevent health care facilities from being overwhelmed.

This week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that a previously announced school closure would last through the end of the school year for Alaska.

The state also extended a mandate that orders Alaskans to “remain at their place of residence and practice social distancing," which is set to be re-evaluated by April 21. The mandate says that everyone in the state must not participate in “public or private gatherings that include non-household members, regardless of the number of people involved.”

The mandate includes an exemption for outdoor activities, but asks that Alaskans keep their distance from others while outside.

[Heading outdoors? Here’s what Alaskans should consider during the pandemic.]

A mandate that bans all non-essential travel between Alaska communities was also extended and is expected to be re-evaluated by April 21, state officials announced.

Earlier in the week, state officials issued a mandate clarifying the non-urgent medical procedures that should be postponed or canceled through mid-June to preserve personal protective equipment in the state. The extensive list of procedures includes surgical abortions, a move that directly conflicts with guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dunleavy said the inclusion of abortion wasn’t political.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, on Friday encouraged Alaskans to wear face coverings while out in public because new information continues to show that they can be an effective tool to limit the spread of the virus.

As Alaskans approached another weekend hunkering down, with several businesses closed and many people out of work statewide, state officials expressed hope that the efforts to blunt the spread of COVID-19 would help initiate a return to normalcy.

“Every day, we get new tools in,” Zink said. “Every day, we have more resources to be able to address this pandemic and to be able to support Alaskans.”

Zink said that she hopes the state can ward off the virus long enough to get a vaccine and protect the state’s most vulnerable. Zink also highlighted the importance of testing in allowing officials to see early on where the spread of COVID-19 is happening, so it can be contained.

“I think that we just see really promising things on the horizon, both for testing and for treatment options,” Zink said.

On Friday, Dunleavy said that he would work to look at ways of going about a phased reopening throughout the state, though many aspects of the virus make the timeframe hard to predict.

“We are working around the clock to try to figure out the ways to disrupt people’s lives as little as possible,” Zink said.

Reporter Paula Dobbyn contributed to this story.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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