Update: COVID-19 count in Alaska reaches 696

Number of infected nonresidents, mostly seafood workers, climbs to 82

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell infected with coronavirus particles, isolated from a patient sample. (June 17, 2020) Image courtesy of NIAID

Updated: 9:30 a.m., June 18.

COVID-19’s march across Alaska has picked up speed again, with the number of newly infected back in double digits, including 32 new cases within two days.

State health officials documented a dozen new cases as of Tuesday, June 16, plus 20 more on Wednesday, June 17. There were also six new nonresident cases, including two seafood industry workers, one in the Anchorage area and another in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services officials said the 20 latest cases  of COVID-19 were in 13 communities, including six in Fairbanks, two each in Anchorage and Palmer, and one each in Chugiak, Eagle River, Homer, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak, the North Slope Borough, Sitka, Soldotna and Wrangel.

The total number of infections in Alaska stood at 696, of whom 438 have recovered. Fifty-five people have been hospitalized since the pandemic began, including a new one on Tuesday, June 16. The number of deaths stands at 12.

The Ketchikan Emergency operations center issued an updated statement about their Alaska resident case, advising that the individual did not quarantine while waiting for results of airport testing and attended several social gatherings before being notified of the positive result.

A total of 76,709 people in Alaska have been tested. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the previous three days is 0.48 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Last week the death of a second resident of Providence Transitional Care Center in Anchorage boosted the state’s death toll to 12. All Alaska Pioneer Homes have been closed to visitors since March 17.

Updates on the impact of COVID-19 are posted online daily at https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a teleconference on June 10 that health officials expect the number of people infected to rise as the state reopens the economy, but that at this point the state had the capability in facilities and medical personnel to treat everyone.

As Anchorage struggled to revitalize its economy, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Tuesday, June 16, issued an emergency order permitting expansion of alcohol beverages-licensed premises, effective on Wednesday, June 17. The order allows temporary alteration of alcoholic beverages-licensed premises to facilitate physically distant outdoor seating for restaurants, breweries, distilleries, wineries and other licensees.

“This emergency order allows for flexibility that gives businesses added options as they adapt to service in a time of COVID,” the mayor said.

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

Medical personnel in Cordova are prepared, however, should anyone else test positive.

On the evening of June 11, under sunny skies, Sanders led a joint training session of about 18 medical personnel in how to use special equipment designated for handling COVID-19 cases, including the community’s only ventilator.  Participants included the emergency medical service leads, and medical personnel from the Illanka Community Health Center and CCMC.

“Cordova just works together,” said Mayor Clay Koplin. “We have different ideas about what works together. That’s how we ended up with this shipyard and the Cordova Center. I have said many times that once Cordova makes up its mind pretty much nothing stands in its way. That is what attracted me to here.”

“I think we are doing a good job following social distancing, wearing masks and testing,” Sanders said. “To date some 640 people have been tested for the virus in Cordova.

“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.

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.

Koplin said he felt people are starting to relax appropriately, albeit with a little less mask wearing. “I think people are adapting a little bit,” he said.