1st COVID-19 case in Kenai reported

Dunleavy, commissioners talk measures to stabilize the economy

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a statement made during a Tuesday press conference by Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. The BP employee who tested positive for COVID-19 is in fact an Alaska resident, who had previously traveled out of state.

The first Kenai resident has tested positive for COVID-19, the state reported Tuesday. Across Alaska there were 14 new positive cases for the new coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 133 confirmed cases, with seven Alaskans currently being hospitalized.

The state reported that the Kenai resident who tested positive contracted COVID-19 while traveling.

There have been 4,603 people in Alaska who have tested for COVID-19. Three Alaskans have died from the disease, two individuals in Anchorage and one in Washington state.

Chief Medical Officr Dr. Anne Zink said in a Tuesday press conference that a BP employee in Prudhoe Bay tested positive for COVID-19. Zink originally said she believed the worker was not an Alaska resident, but the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum later sent a clarifying email that the worker is in fact an Alaska resident.

The DHSS website does not list any cases in the Prudhoe Bay area. Positive cases of COVID-19 are counted based on where the people who test positive live, not on where they actually tested positive.

The BP employee had previously traveled out of state, the clarification from Crum stated.

“The patient had returned to Alaska prior to the release of Health Mandate 10 – Interstate Travel, that was released on March 23,” Crum’s statement reads. “The patient traveled to the north slope on March 25, and displayed symptoms within two days of arriving. He was tested and put in quarantine, as were his immediately identified close contacts.”

According to Crum, the state’s Emergency Operations Center has worked closely with North Slope operators.

“… Contractor companies to have robust travel plans and mitigation strategies in place,” he wrote.

During the press conference, Zink said the state is continuing to work on its testing capacity. Abbott Laboratories created a molecular test for the coronavirus strain, which can provide a speedier diagnostic than previous tests. Zink said the state has some of these tests on hand, but will be getting more in the next week.

“Additional Abbott machines and supplies are on their way next week and we will distribute them around the state,” Zink said. “We have some and we are getting more.”

During a Tuesday night press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy brought several commissioners to discuss how they are working to stabilize the state’s economy. Many of the state departments are suspending fees and installing payment plans for Alaskans and business owners who are struggling financially.

Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Kelly Tshibaka, said deadlines on vehicle and boat registrations have been extended, as well as the deadline for Alaskans to get their REAL ID. The original deadline for Alaskans to apply for their REAL ID was Oct. 1, 2020, but President Donald Trump’s administration has extended the deadline to Oct. 1, 2021.

In the coming weeks, Dunleavy said there will be more suspensions and programs to help cash-strapped businesses and residents.

“We’re freezing in place,” Dunleavy said. “We’re asking our economy to freeze in place.”

Dunleavy took a moment at the conference to warn Alaskans about potential scams. He said Alaskans need to help each other during these times.

“If we find out about Alaskans trying to scam, we’re not going to look at that very favorably at all,” Dunleavy said.

The Legislature passed their budgets this weekend and are currently in recess. Dunleavy said his office is reviewing the budget now. He said since the lawmakers haven’t adjourned, they could still return to Juneau “if need be” and “take a look at anything that’s needed.”

Commissioner Ledbetter of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said at the press conference that her department is working to address an “unprecedented” number of unemployment insurance claims. She said people who need to file should do it online, or over the phone if they don’t have access to a computer.