Public health microbiologist Nisha Fowler loads a tray of samples into the thermal cycler to test for COVID-19 virus at the Alaska State Virology Lab located at the Fairbanks Campus. (Photo by JR Ancheta and courtesy Department of Health and Social Services)

Public health microbiologist Nisha Fowler loads a tray of samples into the thermal cycler to test for COVID-19 virus at the Alaska State Virology Lab located at the Fairbanks Campus. (Photo by JR Ancheta and courtesy Department of Health and Social Services)

Dunleavy: Virus isn’t going anywhere

“The more we learn about this virus, it appears it’s going to be with us for some time.”

As businesses across the state slowly return to normal operations, Gov. Mike Dunleavy acknowledged during a Wednesday night press briefing that Alaskans would likely be dealing with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

“The more we learn about this virus, it appears it’s going to be with us for some time,” Dunleavy said. “Just like the flu is, just like the cold is.”

Dunleavy said that people should expect many businesses to keep in place some of the safe practices they have recently implemented, such as extended takeout options or modified hours for restaurants. The development of antiviral treatments or a vaccine will help eventually, Dunleavy said, but the virus is not likely to disappear any time soon.

Last Friday, the state allowed nonessential businesses to resume limited operations. Anchorage followed suit on Monday. Dunleavy said Wednesday he has heard positive feedback as personal care services and others have reopened their doors.

“The feedback that I’m getting is that folks are happy to be out,” Dunleavy said on Wednesday. “Folks are happy to be going to their favorite establishment, their favorite hair salon, doing their nails, et cetera.”

During the press conference, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum addressed ongoing concerns surrounding commercial fisheries as they prepare to open this summer. Specifically, Crum said that the state had been in conversations with the mayors of Dillingham, Bristol Bay Borough and Lake and Peninsula Borough about the potential of hiring private security firms for small communities that see a large influx of fishermen.

“We’re gonna look into sending some folks out to do an assessment in region about possible connection areas or areas of concern that the locals may have,” Crum said. “To make sure that we have teams on-site just to give them a little bit more support as we have this influx of personnel into the region to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to.”

COVID-19 in Alaska: By the numbers

With four new cases confirmed at Wednesday’s press conference, Alaska’s total number of positive COVID-19 cases stands at 355. This includes 240 people who have fully recovered from the disease and nine people that have died.

Zink said that, of the four new cases, two are residents of Anchorage and two are residents of Eagle River. Two of the patients are between the age of 20-29, one is between 30-39 and one is between 50-59.

A total of 36 people have been hospitalized from the disease since the state first started tracking it, and currently there are 16 people hospitalized who are either confirmed positive or are awaiting test results. The number of hospitalizations was reduced by one as a result of data verification efforts that identified a person who was incorrectly categorized as being hospitalized, according to a Wednesday release from the governor’s office.

The 355 cases are spread across 25 different communities in Alaska. In the Anchorage municipality, 159 cases have been identified in Anchorage, six in Chugiak, 11 in Eagle River and three in Girdwood. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, 63 cases have been identified in Fairbanks, 17 in North Pole, and one in an unidentified community. In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, nine cases have been identified in Palmer and 12 in Wasilla. In the Southeast, Juneau has 27 cases, Ketchikan has 16, Petersburg has four, Craig has two and Sitka has one. Kodiak, Delta Junction, Nome, Bethel and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area each have one case. Cases within communities of less than 1,000 people are included in the counts for their borough or census area.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough has 19 positive cases, with one from Anchor Point, two from Homer, four from Kenai, three from Seward, six from Soldotna and three from Sterling. This includes one Homer resident who was hospitalized and treated in Anchorage, and an Anchor Point resident who died while out of state. Sixteen out of the nineteen cases on the peninsula have recovered, and the last Kenai Peninsula case was identified on April 17.

Dunleavy said that the state has collected 19,119 tests for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and Zink said that the state’s current positivity rate is 1.86%.

Locally, Central Peninsula Hospital has collected 404 tests, with six coming back positive, 372 negative, and 26 awaiting results.

South Peninsula Hospital has done 277 total tests, with one positive, 242 negative and 34 pending.

COVID-19 Resources

For the latest information on the health mandates issued by the state, visit https://covid19.alaska.gov/health-mandates.

For the latest information about COVID-19 local to the Kenai Peninsula Borough, visit the borough’s website at kpboem.com.

For the latest statewide data on COVID-19, visit the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub at https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com.

For the latest guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

For international updates on COVID-19, visit the website for the World Health Organization at www.who.int.

Reach Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

Alaska State Virology Laboratory technician Diana Puhak unpacks samples at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory. (Photo by JR Ancheta and courtesy Department of Health and Social Services)

Alaska State Virology Laboratory technician Diana Puhak unpacks samples at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory. (Photo by JR Ancheta and courtesy Department of Health and Social Services)

University of Alaska Fairbanks student Ben Hedges adds viral transport medium to vials at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory located at the Fairbanks campus Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The virology lab manufactures VTMs onsite for COVID-19 test kits for the state of Alaska. Hedges is a biological sciences major. (UAF Photo by JR Ancheta).

University of Alaska Fairbanks student Ben Hedges adds viral transport medium to vials at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory located at the Fairbanks campus Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The virology lab manufactures VTMs onsite for COVID-19 test kits for the state of Alaska. Hedges is a biological sciences major. (UAF Photo by JR Ancheta).

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