The first Alaskan to die from COVID-19 was in Washington state at the time and is believed to have contracted the disease there, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for Alaska, announced at their daily press conference Tuesday.
One Alaskan from Juneau with the disease has also been hospitalized. The state now has 42 confirmed cases of illness caused by the coronavirus, with two new cases in Ketchikan, two new cases in Fairbanks and one new case in Juneau.
The person who died was an Alaska resident but died in Washington state. They were described as a “high-risk older individual.” Zink said the person had not been in Alaska recently and that the state believes the person contracted COVID-19 in Washington. The U.S Centers for Disease Control rules dictate that the death be counted as an Alaska death.
The person who died was a resident of Southeast Alaska and died on March 16, according to a press release from the Department of Health and Social Services. They died in a health care facility in King County, Washington “after a prolonged stay there.”
To address personal protective equipment and medical supply shortages, Dunleavy said Alaska will start manufacturing its own supplies. He said, for example, distilleries are able to make hand sanitizer.
Dunleavy and Zink urged the public to stay at home and away from others over the next two weeks.
“I just cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay away from each other,” Zink said. “Being close to each other is inherently dangerous right now. Please, just for two weeks stop what you’re doing and stay away from each other … It’s going to take you standing with us or we are going to be overwhelmed by this virus.”
Dunleavy said the state has not issued a shelter-in-place order seen in other states and countries, because state officials want Alaskans to be able to go outside and stay active away from others. Dunleavy said he’s been watching how other states’ shelter in place orders have been issued and is finding that people “aren’t complying.”
“We want people to get outside and have the opportunity to go outdoors and stay away from people,” Dunleavy said. “… We don’t think (the strict shelter in place orders in other states are) necessarily good and it doesn’t accomplish what we want to accomplish. This is not a political maneuver. We think this is the best way to go for Alaska at this point.”
Governments in Anchorage, Juneau and Ketchikan governments have all issued orders, passed resolutions or made emergency proclamations urging residents to “hunker down,” or shelter in place and avoid leaving their homes as much as possible.
As of Tuesday night, there have been four confirmed cases on the Kenai Peninsula, with two in Sterling, one in Seward and one in Soldotna. Across the state, there have been 17 confirmed cases in Anchorage, nine confirmed cases in Fairbanks, two confirmed cases in Palmer, two confirmed cases in Juneau and eight confirmed cases in Ketchikan.
Zink said that out of the new cases, one is an adult under 30 years old, three of the cases are people between 30-59 years old and two of the people are over 60.
Reach Victoria Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Megan Pacer contributed to this story. Reach her a email@example.com.