Updated: COVID-19 infections back in double digits

Most of 51 nonresidents testing positive are seafood workers

Updated 8:30 p.m., June 10.

Fifty new cases of COVID-19 in three days and the death of one patient at an Anchorage nursing care facility pushed the state’s pandemic infection total to 593 people and 11 deaths as of Wednesday, June 10, with 392 of those infected now recovered.

Fifty-one nonresidents, mostly seafood industry workers, also have tested positive.

State health officials announced on Wednesday, June 10, that the 20 newest cases were diagnosed in nine communities, boosting total infection counts in Anchorage, Homer, Eagle River, Nikiski, Seward, Sitka, Soldotna, Wasilla and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The municipality of Anchorage alone has 297 cases, including five who have died.

Two new nonresident cases were also identified.

One is a seafood worker in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the other a visitor who tested positive at the Juneau International Airport.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also thanked Alaskans during the June 10 COVID-19 update teleconference for protesting peacefully against injustice after the death of a black resident of Minneapolis, George Floyd, on the street in Minneapolis, while he was in police custody. “Voicing your opinion when you see injustice is American, it is Alaska,” he said. “They were protests, they weren’t riots, and that is how it should be… We have done pretty good, but we could do better We are going to get there by working together.”

Six of the newest COVID-19 cases are employees of the Alaska Marine Highway System’s M/V Tustumena, who tested positive at Homer, after another crewmember tested positive at Dutch Harbor. Three of the infected crew remain in isolation onboard the Tustumena at Homer. The other four left the vessel to isolate at other locations.

None of the passengers who traveled from Homer to communities along the Aleutian Chain have tested positive.  The Tustumena is now scheduled to resume service on June 27.

In Cordova, the lone nonresident seafood worker who tested positive earlier is now fully recovered, said Dr. Hannah Sanders, medical director of the Cordova Medical Center.

“We are small and isolated and able to come up with solutions,” Sanders said. “We are getting ready for another influx of workers for the seining season. The large processors have been putting a lot of effort into screening.”

“The fish processors have been very aggressive about following the (health) mandates,” she said. But the doctor worries about non-resident seafood processing workers who may be arriving in Cordova without being tested.  Starting next week, the city will provide free testing at the airport for travelers arriving on two Alaska Airlines flights daily. “We will screen everyone we can,” she said.

Some areas of Alaska continued to reopen their economies, which have been hard hit by mandated closures to slow the spread of the virus.

Cordova has taken a more cautious approach.

Businesses are still very restricted, said Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin. “I feel really good about how we have been doing so far, but I think people are getting really tired of masks and social distancing,” Koplin said. “I’m concerned that people will get lackadaisical.”

In a local march for racial equality in Cordova on Sunday, June 7, some 100 participants were all wearing masks, he said. “If we can push on or another month and a half, with social distancing and mask wearing we can open businesses back up,” he said.

More businesses in Cordova still have their doors closed than open, but Koplin said he has heard anecdotally that some people are starting to bring families to visit.

To thank residents for their effort to keep the virus at bay, the city is distributing $5 thank-you coupons when they see residents wearing a mask or socially distancing. The coupons may be used for purchases at several dozen local businesses. “It helps bring business in,” he said.

The city has also hired four ambassadors to spread the word about the need for precautionary measures to keep the virus from spreading and additional staff to provide extra sanitation in public places, including parks. “We are creating more tools for people to use,” Koplin said.

People like the handwashing stations at the harbor so much they want them to remain in place after the pandemic ends, he said.

Still the local economy continues to struggle, in part because of a very slow run to date of the Copper River salmon fishery. “Fishermen are not spending, because they are not making any money,” he said.

Revised travel mandates that went into effect on Saturday, June 6, require everyone entering Alaska to complete a traveler declaration form and provide proof of having tested negative for COVID-19 within the 72 hours prior to departure.

Those unable to present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test are asked to take that test upon arrival and self-quarantine while awaiting test results, or self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their trip, whichever is shorter.  Those entering the state on business will be expected to follow the work plan that their employer filed with the state.

The mandate also restricts travel to communities on the road system or marine highway system, with travel to remote communities limited to essential travel only.

All newly arrived individuals are also being asked to wear a face mask indoors and whenever social distancing becomes challenging and to wash hands frequently.

Complete details for travelers are online at https://covid19.alaska.gov/travelers/.