Dunleavy seeks state funds to aid coronavirus preparations

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is requesting about $4.1 million in state funds to aid in preparations for the coronavirus. He said there were no known cases in the state but that could change, given how the virus has spread.

“We don’t know where this virus is going to go. We’re preparing for an increase in the number of cases and an impact on Alaska,” he told reporters during a Monday afternoon news conference from Anchorage. Dunleavy said he thinks the state is prepared “as much or more than” other states because of how long Alaska has been working on the issue.

In January, a plane carrying Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, underwent screening in Anchorage, where the plane had stopped to refuel. The passengers were isolated to a terminal little used during the winter months.

Alaskans right now should just be aware, Dunleavy said. Officials have been meeting regularly since January, he said.

Dunleavy said there was no reason to ask people to not gather for Saturday’s ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a huge attraction in Anchorage, or other large events at this time. But he added officials were following developments with the virus closely and that could change if warranted.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said officials were working with Iditarod organizers, sharing with them ways to minimize the risk of spreading the virus and ways the state could help if someone got sick.

Dunleavy’s budget request calls for deploying public health nurses to Bethel, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka and positioning other specialists. State health Commissioner Adam Crum said the nurses would help educate community health and tribal health centers about how they can do screenings, work with schools and administer flu shots. He said this also would help maintain capacity within hospitals.

The request also seeks the authority to accept up to $9 million in federal funds.