Alaska saw a continued rise in coronavirus cases throughout the week, including five new cases of the illness among Southcentral residents announced Saturday.
The new cases include an Anchorage resident, two Matanuska-Susitna Borough residents (one in Palmer and one in Wasilla) and two Soldotna residents. The cases include a girl between 10 and 19 years old; a woman in her 30s; a man and woman in their 40s; and one man in his 70s, according to Alaska Department of Health Social Services data published Saturday.
In total, 314 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19, and 147 of them have recovered. The state did not report any new COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths Saturday.
The state reports positive cases of COVID-19 based on a person’s residency or testing location, which doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the person remains while sick. The new numbers encompass the previous day’s testing results, meaning that the positive cases announced Saturday were reported to the state by Friday night at midnight.
The total number of tests completed statewide is now 9,655, according to state data.
State leaders on what’s to come
In response to a growing number of protesters pushing back on shelter-in-place orders nationwide, the Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday that he understood the sentiments of those who are frustrated.
“I understand it. I get it," Dunleavy said in a media briefing. "It wasn’t my hope or my vision that I would be the governor during a pandemic, but nonetheless I think Alaskans threaded the needle.”
He said that Alaska acted quickly to stop the spread of the illness and asked people across the state to help as it began preparing to expand its health care capacity. While the state works to reopen slowly, Dunleavy said that he would rely on Alaska’s COVID-19 data to determine how the reopening would look.
“I would just say to fellow Alaskans that we’re trying to get back to where we were as quickly as possible.”
[Trump administration, congressional leaders near deal on virus aid that includes major boost for small businesses]
The governor said that as the economy continues to remain largely shut down, some businesses may not come back on the other side of the pandemic.
However, ignoring the virus would have led to a dire scenario in which hospitals became overwhelmed and the illness could have spread to smaller communities in the state, Dunleavy said.
“It would have been devastating,” Dunleavy said.
The governor said he believed if the state does not see surges of the illness that encroach upon Alaska’s health care limits, a reopening of Alaska’s economic sectors would continue.
The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said Friday that her main goal was to protect against any more loss of life in the state. People most at risk for adverse consequences of COVID-19 are older adults or people with underlying medical conditions, Zink said.
If people around the state can work to protect the people who are most vulnerable, as treatment options and even a possible vaccine are developed, Zink said, “then we would hope that less people would be exposed to this and ideally less people would die.”
Nome and Kodiak cases involve GCI store employees
Two of the COVID-19 cases announced by the state’s health department in the past week included Nome and Kodiak’s first and only positive results — both people who work at the GCI retail store in each community.
But any official link between them, and potential pathway for the virus, remained a mystery as of Friday.
Roughly 635 miles of mountains and tundra, plus the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, separate the communities.
Officials at the Alaska telecom company say they know of no interaction between the employees. Public-health authorities haven’t shared any information about how the infection might have spread between them either, they say.
“There’s no connection as far as we know,” said GCI spokeswoman Heather Handyside.
State health spokesman Clinton Bennett said based on investigations to date, the employees "did not have contact with each other.”
When the Nome and Kodiak cases surfaced, GCI sent emails to people in both communities telling them about the COVID-19 cases and advising customers who visited the stores recently to monitor their health and seek medical attention if they have signs of illness.
The Nome man last worked in the store on April 3, Handyside said. The Kodiak man worked in that store through Monday.
Asked how many GCI store employees were tested or in quarantine, she said she didn’t have access to that data and referred questions to public health officials.
A spokeswoman for Norton Sound Health Corp. was not available for comment Friday. The public health office in Kodiak referred any questions to the state health department.
The Nome and Kodiak stores are now temporarily closed, Handyside said. They are expected to reopen, though the timing isn’t certain. Among Anchorage stores, all but three are closed; most of the 20 stores outside the city remain open.
Coronavirus precautions include: limited hours; plexiglass in front of store registers; reduced number of people who can be within a store; and masks required for employees and customers.
“We really ask please only come in the store if there is something you can’t take care of online, on the phone, or through delivery,” Handyside said.
Both store employees are men in their 20s, according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data. The Nome case is considered locally acquired; the Kodiak case is still under investigation.
First plasma donation from recovered patient
On Friday, one of the state’s recovered patients became the first Alaskan to donate his plasma here for possible treatment of critically ill patients battling the virus. The federal Food and Drug Administration has authorized the treatment for patients with severe or life-threatening cases while clinical trials continue.
An anonymous donor gave what’s called convalescent plasma Friday morning at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage.
There’s no immediate need for the unit of plasma he donated, so it will be stored and used when requested by an in-state hospital, Blood Bank of Alaska CEO Robert Scanlon said. Another 17 people have voiced interest in donating, Scanlon said. He said the blood bank hopes to create an inventory of the plasma to serve hospitals throughout the state.
[Because of a high volume of comments requiring moderation, we are temporarily disabling comments on many of our articles so editors can focus on the coronavirus crisis and other coverage. We invite you to write a letter to the editor or reach out directly if you’d like to communicate with us about a particular article. Thanks.]