Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Tuesday, April 7, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Tuesday, April 7, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

State reports seventh COVID-19 death, 226 total cases

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A seventh Alaskan resident has died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Communications Director Clinton Bennett confirmed that the person was a woman from Anchorage. The woman was hospitalized on April 5 and died on April 7, according to information on the state website dedicated to state coronavirus data.

In addition to the new death, DHSS reported Wednesday that there are now a total of 226 cases of COVID-19 in Alaska, an increase of 13 over the cases reported Tuesday. New cases are reported each day by noon on the state’s website, and the report reflects the cases from the previous 24-hour period from midnight to 11:59 p.m.

There are no new cases on the Kenai Peninsula.

As of Wednesday, the state reports that 32 people have recovered from the disease. There have been a cumulative total of 27 people hospitalized for the disease. That number does not include people who have since died or gotten better and been released.

Over the weekend, there were an additional three deaths of Alaska residents. Two were in-state, and the third was the death of a middle-aged Anchor Point man who died in a different state.

One of the other Alaskans who died was a 73-year-old woman from Fairbanks who was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on March 27. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported that the woman died at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The patient was admitted to the hospital on March 25, “and had underlying health conditions,” the News Miner reported.

The woman died on Friday, April 2, the state release says.

The third death reported over the weekend was a 71-year-old Anchorage resident who acquired the infection outside of Alaska, tested positive on March 28 and was hospitalized in state. The patient had preexisting health conditions.

Alaska also saw its first case from the Yukon-Kuskokwim area on Tuesday — one case in Bethel.

The Bethel case was associated with out-of-state travel, according to a press release from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“We are working closely with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and local public health nursing staff to identify people who may have been exposed to this person and offer appropriate testing, isolation, and quarantine guidance,” Alaska State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said in the release. “We are making every effort to respond earnestly to this situation to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the region.”

Of the cases announced Tuesday, 12 were male and 10 are female. One case is an individual aged 20-29; five are aged 30-39; three are aged 40-49; seven are aged 50-59; four are aged 60-69; one is an aged 70-79; and one is person older than 80.

In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy called for an Alaska Day of Prayer and Hope on April 10, a date celebrated as Good Friday in Christian faiths. The governor will be the host of a livestream event at 2 p.m. Friday in which he will offer a personal prayer for Alaska and a moment of silence. He will be joined remotely by religious and community leaders.

“In times of uncertainty, such as this global health pandemic we are fending off, prayer and hope are powerful resources that are immediately accessible to every Alaskan across every faith and religious tradition,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “I invite all Alaskans to join me this Friday as we come together to pray for and focus our positive wishes on Alaska, the country, and the world. I have no doubt that the people of this great state will emerge from this pandemic stronger, more compassionate, and more united than ever.”

DHSS also issued a new health alert on Tuesday offering safety guidelines for religious services. Health Mandate 11 remains in effect prohibiting private and public gatherings of non-household members for weddings, faith gatherings, graduations and funerals. The health alert will allow gatherings of no more than 10 people to livestream religious services provided there is social distancing of 6 feet. If singing or projection of voice is done, distancing must be 10 feet or more. Non-speaking or technical support staff are to wear mask coverings.

“It’s not about the entity, the business, the institutions,” Dunleavy explained. “… It’s about the interactions, people closer than 6 feet.”

The new health advisory also allows drive-in religious services provided each vehicle includes only household members and that cars are 6-feet apart. Participants may not interact physically with clergy, staff or people in other vehicles. That includes collecting donations by basket or plate.

Also included in the advisory are restrictions on making and distributing Easter baskets. No one can participate who is sick with respiratory symptoms or fever, or who has traveled out of state or had contact with a COVID-19 patient in the past 14 days. No more than 10 people can gather to assemble baskets, and they must wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling baskets.

The state also released several new health mandates and advisories. Health Mandate 5, an order issued on March 19 postponing or canceling elective or non-urgent surgeries and procedures, was revised to include an attachment better defining those procedures and extending the effective date to June 15. The list includes surgeries such as plastic surgery, sterilization and surgical abortions, except where the life of the mother is endangered. Some minor surgeries are allowed, such as circumcision of newborn boys at the bedside before the child goes home.

When pressed by Associated Press reporter Becky Bohrer on why surgical abortions were included in the list of postponed or canceled procedures, DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said the idea was to preserve staff resources and supplies of personal protective equipment.

“It’s to protect the patient, protect the health care provider,” Crum said.

At the press conference, Dunleavy said that mandates and restrictions will be revisited as the state gets more equipment and personal protective gear.

“As soon as we get that up to speed we can look at loosening some of those mandates that come with elective procedures,” he said. “… We want to get life back to normal as soon as possible.”

In response to a question by the Homer News about how sport and charter fishing could be done this season, Dunleavy said the state is looking into how sport charters could be done under social distancing rules. That would fall under other mandates allowing activities without close proximity, he said.

“We’ll come out with more guidelines,” Dunleavy said. “…We’ll come out with more details.”

Unguided sport fishing in streams would be allowed, though, provided fishermen keep their distance from each other.

Locally, 97 swabs have been sent off for testing so far, with 80 tests coming back negative. Other than the one positive case the hospital previously identified, the rest of the rests are pending.

Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said the state will be coming out with new rules regarding marine traffic and harbor use this weekend. Some mariners had been confused about signs at the harbor regarding use.

Hawkins said mariners can go to and from the harbor for travel from across Kachemak Bay to Homer to get supplies or medical services. Critical infrastructure such as commercial fishing boats, tow boats, landing craft and boats supporting industrial and critical needs also are allowed.

Mariners on boats coming from foreign countries or other states have to quarantine for 14 days before they can go out into the community. Hawkins said one boat from California had checked ahead with the harbor office and timed their trip so they would be at sea during the entire 14-day quarantine period.

One restriction is that mariners can’t travel through other communities in order to access recreational activities, Hawkins said.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink called COVID-19 “sneaky,” and said one concern is that the novel coronavirus that causes the disease sheds in large amounts early on when someone might be infected but not showing symptoms.

“We’re continuing to see people who went to work, went to the grocery store and were around others,” she said. “Even that social distancing can expose people.”

That’s why it’s important that essential workers minimize contact with others and why people should wear masks when they have to go out for supplies or other critical needs, she said. People also who don’t feel well, even with mild symptoms, should not go to work.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com. Reach Megan Pacer at mapacer@homernews.com.

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