Alaska reports first case of novel coronavirus

A man has tested positive for the new coronavirus in Alaska, the first such case in the state, officials said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office said the individual arrived in Anchorage Wednesday. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, described the man as a foreign national who had come through the airport, identified symptoms that could be consistent with COVID-19, contacted his health provider, isolated himself and made arrangements to be assessed.

While experts still were gathering details, Zink said this is a case officials believe they can contain. The case would be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation, Zink said.

“This is not someone who’s been wandering through the community,” she said.

An epidemiology team would go through the man’s recent history and if there is any reason to believe someone may have been exposed, they will be contacted and asked to quarantine themselves for 14 days, Zink said.

“In the brief story, there was not any significant concern that we had that this person had exposed anyone else in the state of Alaska,” she said.

Jeff Turner, a Dunleavy spokesman, said the man was on a private cargo flight.

Officials have been preparing for a case and urging Alaskans to take steps intended to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as avoiding large gatherings or crowded places. Dunleavy on Wednesday declared a public health disaster emergency in response to the virus, which he likened to a “slow-moving storm coming our way.” He said the declaration would allow the administration to act more quickly with procurement and in other areas.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. More than 61,000 have recovered.

Zink said the man was discharged from the hospital in Anchorage where he was tested. She said the state was in the process of moving him to one of its housing alternatives for isolation. She declined to describe those but said officials believe the placement puts no one else at risk.

Meanwhile Thursday, the University of Alaska said it will have students take most classes it offers remotely for the rest of the spring semester, and events around the state were being canceled or delayed in response to virus concerns. Officials with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race announced they have postponed some post-race events in Nome.