Eight new positive cases of COVID-19, including one case in the Sterling area, were announced during a Wednesday press conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy and chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink. Dunleavy also issued a new health mandate that will allow some health care providers to resume some procedures under certain conditions.
The new cases included three people in Anchorage, one in Sterling, one in Nome and three in Juneau. The state’s new total for positive cases is 293. On the Kenai Peninsula, there are three residents from Sterling who have tested positive, four residents in Soldotna, three Kenai residents, three people from Seward, two residents from Homer and one individual from Anchor Point died from COVID-19 complications out of state.
The Nome case is the first case in the northwest region of Alaska. Today, there were no new deaths and two new hospitalizations. There have been a total of 34 total hospitalizations and nine deaths.
The state has conducted 8,664 COVID-19 tests. Zink said the state is seeing a plateau in the number of tests being conducted around the state.
More personal protective equipment for health care workers is on its way to Alaska, Zink said. Some supplies are coming from the National Strategic Stockpile.
The new health mandate issued Wednesday rolls back some of the previous mandates the governor’s office issued restricting medical procedures. The new mandate will allow most health care providers to resume services, under new social distancing requirements.
The suspension of nonessential procedures has been “beneficial in slowing the spread” of COVID-19, the mandate said.
“Starting Monday, you’re going to be able to go see your doctor again,” Dunleavy said.
Some health care facilities and providers will be allowed to resume services where minimal protective equipment is required. Providers should still continue to deliver care without being in the same physical space, when possible.
Regardless of symptoms, all health care facilities should screen all patients for recent illness, travel, fever or recent exposure to COVID-19, and to the extent that is possible, begin testing all admitted patients, the mandate said.
Patients receiving urgent and emergent procedures, like deliveries and dental work, should be tested or “rigorously screened” for COVID-19, prior to the procedure or birth, the mandate said. All patients receiving surgery will also need to be tested for the new coronavirus within 48 hours of their procedure, the mandate said.
Surgeries and procedures that can be delayed without posing a significant risk to health, livelihood or quality of life must be postponed until further notice, the mandate said.
Health care services that cannot be delayed longer than eight weeks may resume May 4, the mandate said.
The mandate applies to most health care providers, including hospitals, hospice, acupuncturists, massage therapists, pharmacists, social workers, veterinarians, midwives, chiropractors and dentists.
“Nonetheless, we’re going to begin this process and watch very closely — imploring everyone involved in health care that they adhere to the protocols,” Dunleavy said. “Our goal is folks can go see their docs and do so in a matter that gets them the care they need and in a manner that slows the spread.”
Dunlevavy said the state is currently in conversation with fishing communities and other stakeholders on how to approach the upcoming fishing season.
“We want to protect all Alaskans and all of our coastal communities,” Dunleavy said. “Fishing is part of the economic backbone of many of our communities.”
Nancy Dahlstrom, Department of Corrections commissioner, announced seven employees at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19. Dahlstrom said no inmates in the state have tested positive. New inmates are being screened, she said.
Inside the facilities, Dahlstrom said cleaning practices have been “greatly enhanced,” movement has been “restricted” to practice social distancing to the “best of our ability” and inmates have been given more personal cleaning products.
Inmates have also begun sewing face masks, which will initially be given to corrections staff. Dahlstrom the inmates will create 40,000.
“I’m pleased and proud inmates want to participate and give back like this,” Dahlstrom said.
While the governor is loosening some of his mandates, Alaskans shouldn’t expect their lives to go back to “normal” anytime soon. Zink said it’s time to “normalize the new normal.”
“We are going to live in a world of COVID for some time,” Zink said. The state has set up an email for residents to ask questions of the state, email@example.com.