Three additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Alaska, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said at a press conference Wednesday.
Speaking in Anchorage, Zink said two cases were in Anchorage and one in the Seward area. All cases were “travel-related” she said, and the two Anchorage patients were older while the Seward case was a younger person in their 20s. Two of the patients had traveled to the Lower 48 and the other had recently traveled to Europe, Zink said.
Zink once again repeated advice to self-isolate if people are feeling ill and to be vigilant about washing hands and cleaning.
“This is a very important time in the state of Alaska,” Zink said, where community actions could have a major impact on how quickly the virus was able to spread. “This could be the tipping point,” she said.
Though new cases are being reported, Zink said, any patient’s past travel will not be made public unless there is a public safety risk.
One of the state’s confirmed cases was Ketchikan Gateway Borough employee Glenn Brown. Brown identified himself and shared his experience on Facebook saying he wanted people to have accurate information from the source, “not based on conjecture and silly rumor.”
Brown said in the days leading to his diagnosis he had traveled to Oregon and Washington, which was where state health officials determined he contracted the virus. He wrote that Alaska Public Health staff did not believe his was a community-transmission case.
Zink said investigative staff at the Department of Health and Social Services would contact any “at-risk” people they believed had come into contact with someone diagnosed with the virus.
The state is trying to expand its testing capacity, Zink said, but at this point was focusing on testing only people who have shown symptoms of COVID-19 like fever and coughing and who had recently traveled. The state was pushing hard on the federal government to receive more supplies, she said.
“If I had all the tests in the world I’d be doing more testing,” Zink said. “We’re asking people to go to their health care providers and see if they have flu swabs. We have been told (by the federal government) we should expect more tests soon.”
Katie Bausler, spokesperson for Bartlett Regional Hospital said only people who were showing symptoms and had a recommendation from their doctor would be tested.
“We’re really encouraging people to contact their health care providers if you’re symptomatic,” she said.
However, if someone does not have a health care provider they could be screened for testing at the hospital, she said. But the hospital asked people to call to arrange a visit before arriving at the hospital. The state would cover the cost of the test if patients met the criteria, she said.
Bartlett also announced Wednesday it was restricting visitation between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. and instituting other restrictions on visits.
Zink said the state had prepared for a viral outbreak just last year and plans were in place if the state’s health care systems were to become overrun.
“We are seeing playbooks from around the world,” Zink said. “We have a disaster preparedness plan. If we got to crisis standards of care that would be information that we would declare as a state.”
Information on the coronavirus is available from websites for the City and Borough of Juneau, the State of Alaska at coronavirus.alaska.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with flu-like symptoms are encouraged to contact their health care provider.