10 new positive tests of COVID-19 in Alaska

All 32 people who have tested positive statewide are isolating themselves outside of hospitals

State health officials say 10 more people in three Alaska communities have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 32, with none of them hospitalized.

Seven of those infected were in Anchorage, two in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and one in Juneau, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced on the evening of Sunday, March 22.

The statewide total includes 13 in Anchorage, seven in Fairbanks, six in Ketchikan, two in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and one each in Juneau, Seward, Soldotna and Sterling.

All of those infected are isolating themselves at home, with their close contacts being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.

Just one of the Anchorage cases reported recent travel outside of Alaska. The rest are not known at this time to be travel related.

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin, at least two of the new Anchorage cases being investigating have no clearly identified contact with a confirmed case, indicating that community transmission of COVID-19 appears to be occurring in the Anchorage area.

State and community health officials have continued to urge everyone to hunker down and stay home except for necessary travel within the community.

Some rural communities are seeking to restrict non-resident travel.

In Cordova, Mayor Clay Koplin issued a mandate on Friday, March 20, directing that anyone arriving in Cordova by commercial air service stay at home for 14 days following their arrival. That mandate applies too to everyone who has arrived by commercial air service since March 6.

When left unchecked, this virus spreads exponentially, warned Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Health officials have advised everyone to keep a distance of six feet between themselves and other persons, as the COVID-19 virus is known to spread airborne.

Still state of Alaska employees were told to report for work on Monday, March 23, under the same circumstances they were working under Friday, March 20 be it via telework or at the office or another facility.

Jake Metcalfe, executive director of ASEA/AFSME Local 53, the state’s largest employee union, said the order to state employees issued by Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum contradicted efforts of the advice of both Mayor Berkowitz and state medical director Dr. Anne Zink, who have urged everyone to stay at home as much as possible, wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their face and keep a distance between themselves and others.

“With no vaccine available, we have to rely on two tools: containment and mitigation,” Zink said. “Containment involves identifying patients and their contacts to keep them apart from others and prevent disease spread. Given our limited resources here in Alaska, we also need community mitigation, which involves changing our behavior to prevent the virus from transmitting from infected persons to susceptible persons.”

The pandemic, which began in China, has infected thousands of people worldwide. Hardest hit areas in the United States have been Washington state and New York.

The pandemic is causing economic, as well as medical concerns, particularly among workers laid off by companies restricting access to their facilities as a health precaution. In Alaska, a number of eating and drinking establishments are offering take-out service only, while other retail entities have announced that only employees are allowed inside the store and requested purchases will be delivered curbside. The situation has resulted in a number of people working in these establishments to be laid off and the number of people applying for unemployment benefits is expected to rise dramatically.