Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, left, speaks by video in a press conference on April 6, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska, while Gov. Mike Dunleavy, right, listens. (Photo by Austin McDaniel, Alaska Governor’s Office)

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, left, speaks by video in a press conference on April 6, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska, while Gov. Mike Dunleavy, right, listens. (Photo by Austin McDaniel, Alaska Governor’s Office)

15 new COVID-19 cases reported

15 new cases reported Sunday, bringing state total to 272

Alaska has 15 new positive cases of COVID-19, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced on Sunday, bringing the total case count to 272.

The new cases are in seven Alaska communities: Anchorage (5), Fairbanks (3), Girdwood (1) Juneau (1), Ketchikan (1), Palmer (1) and Wasilla (3). The reporting period was for April 11 and was posted on April 12.

Of the new cases, seven are male and eight are female. One is under age 10; two are aged 10-19; two are aged 20-29; one is aged 30-39; one is aged 40-49; three are aged 50-59, four are aged 60-69 and one is aged 80+.

No new hospitalizations or deaths were reported for April 11. There are now 66 recovered cases and 31 hospitalizations.

The latest death was on Friday of a 73-year-old Fairbanks woman. Foundation Health Partners, the organization that runs Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, announced the woman died April 10.

On Friday DHSS also reported another case on the Kenai Peninsula, a third case in Kenai. That brings the total number of positive COVID-19 cases on the peninsula to 15: Anchor Point (1), Homer (2), Kenai (3), Seward (3), Soldotna (4) and Sterling (2). One of those 15 cases is a Homer resident who was tested and treated in Anchorage, and one of those 15 cases was an Anchor Point resident who died out of state.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a Friday press conference that there are only 12 people currently being hospitalized. The cumulative number includes people who have since died or since recovered and gone home.

The state has tested 8,038 people for the novel coronavirus as of April 11, according to the DHSS case counts website at https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/.

The Juneau case reported Friday is a correctional officer working at Lemon Creek Correction Center, the state announced and the Juneau Empire reported. The State Epidemiology team is working to identify anyone who may have been exposed to the disease by the correctional officer in order to notify and quarantine them, the Empire reported. Zink confirmed this during Friday’s press conference.

The state of Alaska and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium both obtained supplies of rapid testing machines from Abbott Laboratories — the state got 50 and ANTHC got 40. The consortium has already distributed its machines to tribal organizations and communities, mostly in rural areas of Alaska.

Zink said Friday that the state is still working on distributing its supply of the rapid test machines to communities around Alaska. When asked whether the state would consider sending a rapid test machine to each of the state’s correctional facilities, given the case of the correctional officer testing positive at Lemon Creek and the importance of being able to know quickly whether the disease is spreading in a closed system like a prison, Zink said the machines are able to be redeployed where necessary.

“There’s all these tools, and we’re gaining more tools every day on the way that we can fight this disease, and the Abbott test is one of those,” she said. “… It can be done quickly. Everyone wants to know the answer quickly and there’s some real reason, particularly like you mentioned in a correctional facility, to be able to do that.”

Health care facilities are another place where it can be very helpful to have quick test results, Zink said.

“So we initially distributed them to kind of brace us and to kind of bridge us while we were trying to get more of the hospital ones up and running,” she said. “And the hope is to then redeploy those to more rural areas, and/or to facilities like prisons, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, where we need kind of a rapid test that they may not be able to otherwise do.”

Dr. Robert Onders, medical director for ANTHC, emphasized the importance of giving rural Alaska communities the power to carry out localized testing in a timely manner.

“You have to have rural, locally based testing ability,” he said. “… The more locally based testing that we can quickly apply, the more likely we can control the spread in these communities.”

The state reported that, last week, a staff member at McLaughlin Youth Center within the DHSS Division of Juvenile Justice tested positive for COVID-19.

“Testing of staff and youth at the facility was completed last Sunday and results have been returned,” a press release from DHSS said. “No positive cases were found as a result of the testing. Operations have resumed, with no one needing isolation to prevent the spread of illness and all staff returning to work.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum announced the suspension of a number of fees and fines from multiple state departments in order to provide some relief and flexibility as businesses and residents continue to cope with the altered living situation the novel coronavirus has caused.

The disaster order suspends fees, fines and requirements including onsite inspection requirements for birth centers, in-person requirements for Office of Children’s Services visits, the requirement to submit a certificate of need to increase bed capacity at a facility, and nearly 70 different types of corporate filing fees within the Department of Commerce.

The full order and list of suspensions can be found at https://gov.alaska.gov/newsroom/2020/03/31/governor-announces-progress-on-alaska-covid-19-economic-stabilization-plan/.

The suspension of the fees, fines and regulations is effective through May 11.

Locally, South Peninsula Hospital reported Friday morning that it has sent 110 samples off to be tested. Of those, 91 tests have come back negative and 18 are still pending. The hospital has had only one positive test so far.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com. Homer News editor Michael Armstrong contributed to this story. Reach him at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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