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Anchorage

Anchorage officials urge caution as COVID-19 case counts increase

Eden Pascual, left, checks paperwork as Josh Jones prepares to take a nasal swab sample from a patient at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at 4115 Lake Otis Parkway on Thursday. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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Anchorage officials urged the public to continue taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 as cases reported in the city continued to increase this week.

“We’re telling the public right now that cases are going up, that caution lights should be popping up in your mind,” Natasha Pineda, director of the Anchorage Health Department, said in a community briefing Friday.

Anchorage saw 47 new cases between May 28 and June 3. Of those cases, 33 are associated with two clusters occurring in Anchorage, including a group of cases at the Providence Transitional Care Center and 12 cases associated with a single household.

In the city, four people who didn’t have symptoms and were screened for the illness as part of a hospital admission tested positive. There were seven people who had symptoms and were tested, Pineda said.

“All of these indicate to us at the health department that we do have presence of community spread,” she said.

Some of the Anchorage cases were related to gatherings outside the city over Memorial Day weekend, Pineda said.

Statewide, there were 144 active cases of the illness on Saturday, including 11 new cases announced Friday and 12 announced Saturday that are concentrated in Southcentral Alaska.

The cases Saturday included two people from Eagle River, two from Homer, two from Anchor Point and six from communities with fewer than 1,000 people in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Two seafood industry workers from outside of Alaska also tested positive for COVID-19 in Anchorage on Friday, according to the state’s health department.

"COVID-19 activity is rising in Alaska, especially in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. We need to consider that anyone we interact with could have COVID-19,” Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in a statement Saturday. “All Alaskans and visitors to our state should take personal responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It’s extremely important to continue with our prevention measures — stay 6 feet apart from others, wash hands often, avoid touching your face, wear cloth face coverings when out in public, keep social circles small and stay home when you are sick.”

At Anchorage’s Providence Transitional Care Center, a total of 14 residents and 15 caregivers have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday, according to Katie Marquette, community relations manager at Providence. Two of the residents are hospitalized while some aren’t showing symptoms. Providence completed initial testing and will begin a second round of testing on Friday, Marquette wrote in an email.

The state of Alaska this week issued a revised travel mandate that now allows for travelers coming into the state to avoid a 14-day quarantine upon arrival if they test negative for the virus within a specific time frame.

The Municipality of Anchorage on Friday night released additional restrictions aimed at minimizing travelers’ interactions with other people once they arrive. Those travelers, upon arriving in Anchorage from Outside, may not dine in at restaurants or visit indoor attractions like theaters and museums for two weeks. Those restrictions may be lifted sooner if those travelers get negative results on a COVID-19 test taken at least seven days after they arrive in the state.

The state’s updated health mandate and the city of Anchorage’s new restrictions both took effect Saturday.

Berkowitz on Friday urged travelers coming into the city to exercise the same precautions they would while at home. He also noted that he’d heard reports of issues with cargo crews in Anchorage and had alerted airlines about it.

“It has come to my attention that some of the restaurants, particularly in downtown, have had uncomfortable experiences with cargo crew engaging in, let’s just say, too much revelry and with too many people,” Berkowitz said.

As the Municipality of Anchorage began a phased reopening, city officials released several metrics to evaluate how Anchorage was dealing with the virus. The metrics can go from green to yellow to red.

On Friday, Pineda said two of the indicators — health care capacity and epidemiology — were moved to yellow, “indicating caution to our community and policymakers."

The measurements changed due to “growing evidence” of asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers in Anchorage, new positive cases from out-of-state workers and continued disruptions in the supply chain of personal protective gear and testing supplies.

The city issued a health advisory Friday “to address the renewed spread of COVID-19 seen throughout our municipality and encourage the public to help slow the spread," Pineda said.

Individuals are the ones who can spread the illness from person to person, Pineda said, and it falls on individuals to keep from spreading it further.

“I see a lot of people not wearing face masks or taking precautions," Pineda said. “And we’re asking for people to really reflect on their own behavior and help.”

Reporter Zaz Hollander contributed.

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