59 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Alaska

Advice remains the same: wash your hands, self-quarantine

Confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Alaska have grown to 59, three of them hospitalized in critical condition, putting more pressure on efforts to contain its spread, while dealing with worsening socioeconomic conditions.

State health officials continue to urge everyone to do their part by washing their hands frequently, sheltering in place at home and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people. All persons coming to Alaska by aircraft or over the Alaska Highway are now mandated to quarantine themselves for 14 days after arrival.

State health officials announced late on Wednesday, March 25 that the new positive cases include Anchorage 11, Fairbanks/North Pole 2, Homer 1 and Ketchikan 3.

“This clearly represents a considerable increase in our cases,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist. “In order to slow down the transmission rate, it is imperative that all Alaskans strictly adhere to state and local social distancing directives and also promptly isolate themselves from others if they develop any symptoms of a respiratory infection.”

So far, the Alaska communities that have had laboratory-confirmed cases include Anchorage (including Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson) Eagle River/Chugiak, Homer, Seward, Soldotna, Sterling, Fairbanks, North Pole, Palmer, Ketchikan and Juneau. The overall statewide count now stands at Anchorage (including JBER) 24; Ketchikan 11; Fairbanks 8; Eagle River/Chugiak 3; North Pole 3; Palmer, Sterling and Juneau 2 each; and Homer, Seward and Soldotna 1 each.

State health officials said three of the new cases are known to be travel-related and three are close contacts or previously diagnosed individuals. Most of those infected are adults, but three are younger adults, ages 19-29.

The pandemic has sickened thousands of people and caused multiple deaths in nearly 200 countries to date. In the United States alone to date some 55,000 people have been diagnosed as testing positive and over 700 people have died, including one Alaskan, Delbert “Pete” Erickson of Petersburg, 76, who was being treated in Seattle for congestive heart failure.

The pandemic’s impact on the economy and life overall in Alaska has been dramatic, the saving grace being that Alaska has huge areas where people can recreate while maintaining a great deal of distance between themselves and others while walking, hiking, ice skating, skiing and engaging in other outdoor activities. All that space is helping those with children home while all schools are closed to get outdoor exercise in a safe manner.

A number of businesses and other entities, from nonprofit entities to religious congregations, are restricting entry to their facilities.

Gyms are closed. Many restaurants, coffee shops and other retail establishments are offering take-out or curb service only. Many companies that were counting on another lucrative summer tourism season are now telling workers hired for the season to stay home. Other businesses, including hair salons, where there is close interaction with customers, have been ordered closed. Many people employed in service industry jobs are now without jobs at least on a temporary basis.

Alaska Airlines announced plans to reduce its flight schedule for April and May by 70 percent following historic and unprecedented falloff in demand because of the pandemic.

Airline officials said flight schedules for June and beyond will be based on demand, but it is our expectation that reductions will be substantial for at least the next several months, airline officials said.

Brad Tilden, the airline’s chief executive officer, said the airline’s goal, since the outbreak began, “has been to keep our employees and guests safe and healthy, and to ensure that our airline is here to support and serve them in the future. But we also know that given the lack of demand for air travel and profound impact on the financial management of our business hard work and aggressive control of costs and cash are required even with additional support.”

Tilden said the airline is optimistic about its future, but that it is clear they are and will be under severe final pressure for the foreseeable future, making these actions essential for now.

Tilden himself is taking a 100 percent pay reduction for the foreseeable future.