Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, May 1, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Friday, May 1, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Only new COVID-19 case is a Fairbanks man

Updated state guidelines hash out face coverings

For the second day in a row, Alaska has had just one new case of COVID-19. The new case is of a Fairbanks man aged 30-39, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) announced on Sunday. That brings Alaska’s total case count to 379.

A Kenai woman tested positive for COVID-19 in Saturday’s report, the only case for that reporting period. The cause of transmission for both cases remain under investigation.

The Fairbanks case reflects data from midnight until 11:59 p.m. on May 9 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

The new case is a male aged 30-39. There have been a total of 38 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases now total 324, including six new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 27,364 tests have been conducted.

There have been no new deaths associated with the disease since the death of an Anchor Point man aged 80+ on May 5.

The state’s 379 cases are spread out across 26 Alaska communities. As of Friday, there are 172 cases in Anchorage, six in Chugiak, 13 in Eagle River and three in Girdwood. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, there are 65 cases in Fairbanks, 18 in North Pole and one in a community labeled “other.” In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, there are nine cases 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. Bethel, Kodiak, Nome, Delta Junction, Tok and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area each have one case.

On the Kenai Peninsula, Anchor Point has had two cases, Homer has four, Kenai now has six, Soldotna has six, Seward has three and Sterling has three. Of these cases, one was an Anchor Point man in his 30s who died outside of Alaska, and one is a resident of Homer who was tested and isolated in Anchorage.

According to health mandate guidelines under the state’s second phase of reopening the economy, some businesses that had already reopened were allowed to expand their capacity to 50% starting Friday, while other previously closed entities like theaters, bars, museums and libraries are allowed to open at 25% capacity.

Asked by a reporter a Friday press conference whether the state would consider giving Alaska businesses new guidelines further in advance so that they could have more time to prepare for these changes, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said when the guidelines are released is dependent on the state’s metrics for monitoring the disease.

“We have to watch the numbers,” he said. “We can start to talk about the changes in the guidelines as we look at phase three, but again we have to be very sure that our numbers — as we’ve mentioned, number of cases, testing, ICU (Intensive Care Unit) bed count, overall counts, etc. — the metrics that we’re using that you’ll see on the website. We have to make sure that those are still holding.”

In that respect, Alaska’s medical capacity remains strong. According to the Coronavirus Response Hub, Alaska has 943 beds out of 1,900 available, 127 ICU beds available out of 195 available, and 324 ventilators out of 344 available. Only eight people are now hospitalized with COVID-19 or under investigation for having COVID-19.

When the Dunleavy administration posted the updated guidelines for myriad sectors of the economy and Alaska society on Thursday, they differed slightly when it came to the rules for face coverings for each sector. For most sectors of the economy, including retail, restaurants, bars, theaters, bingo halls, bowling alleys, gyms, libraries, museums and charter operations, the wearing of face coverings by employees and, in some cases, customers, is not mandated but “strongly encouraged.” But for three sectors (childcare/day camps, lodging and camping, and personal care services) the guidance documents of mandate 16 stipulated that staff “must” wear face coverings. This requirement is extended to customers frequenting personal care services such as salons or tattoo parlors.

Clinton Bennett, communications director for DHSS, said on Friday that the word “must” is being replaced with “strongly encouraged” in the guidelines for lodging and camping as they pertain to wearing face coverings.

He confirmed that the state is requiring staff members in the childcare/day camps sector and in personal care services to wear face coverings, as well as customers frequenting personal care service businesses.

“The personal services and childcare/camps require … both groups of providers to be in close proximity to patrons and to the children they are taking care of,” Bennett wrote in an email.

The state is requiring employees in those sectors to wear face coverings “to mitigate any possible exposure in these close contact environments,” he wrote.

For child care services, the mandate guidance document states:

“Cloth face coverings must be worn by all employees. Face coverings may be removed for a short time when necessary, such as when playing a musical instrument, but must be worn at all other times.”

For personal care services, the mandate guidance document states:

“Service providers/licensees must wear cloth face coverings, at a minimum. Face coverings must be worn before, during, and after service delivery.”

The guidance document for personal care services goes on to state:

“Customers must wear cloth face coverings and wash or sanitize hands upon arrival. Face coverings worn by customers may be removed for no more than five minutes at a time when necessary to perform services, but must be worn at all other times, including when entering and exiting the shop.”

Dunleavy also addressed face coverings during Friday’s press conference.

“If you see people with masks, they’re just trying to help you,” Dunleavy said. “Because the masks, from what we understand, help limit or slow down a projection, whether it’s a sneeze or a cough. So those folks are trying to help you.”

Dunleavy said people will likely see private businesses choosing to make face coverings a requirement for patrons.

“That’s their prerogative,” he said. “They are trying to help you.”

If Alaskans continue to help each other, Dunleavy said, the state can continue to be what he calls a model for getting through the pandemic.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com and Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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