3 new COVID-19 cases identified in Alaska, governor issues new mandates

Alaska gained three new cases of people who tested positive for COVID-19, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink announced in a press conference on Tuesday in Anchorage.

In the March 17 press conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Zink announced three people from Anchorage, Ketchikan and Fairbanks had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. All were travel related. Two were older adults and one was a person in their 20s. All three are doing well and did not need hospitalization, she said.

That brings Alaska’s total of positive and confirmed COVID-19 cases to six, including two announced on Monday from Fairbanks and one last week from Anchorage.

“We’ve been talking about this for some time,” Zink said. “We were prepared for this.”

Zink also announced a new health mandate. As of 5 p.m. March 15, all bars, breweries, restaurants, cafes and food kiosks will be closed to dine-in service. No on-site consumption is permitted, but carry out and drive-through food pickup is allowed. Food establishments also are encouraged to set up procedures that encourage social distancing.

“These measures are important because they’re helping all Alaskans,” Dr. Zink said. “…This is a time to be kind and to work with each other. Also remember the small actions you can do to save a life.”

Also on Tuesday, in a COVID-19 Health Alert, Zink announced the Department of Health and Social Services is suspending all long-term services and supports that occur in congregate settings, including senior centers and adult day services, and site-based day habilitation or supported employment activities where individuals gather together.

Dunleavy also announced the formation of a new group to work with the governor’s office to protect the state’s economy from the impact of COVID-19, the Alaska Economic Stabilization Team (AEST). Led by former Gov. Sean Parnell and former U.S. Senator Mark Begich, the bipartisan team will include Alaska economic leaders and former elected officials,

“The Coronavirus Disease is exacerbating Alaska’s existing economic challenges and is unfortunately creating new ones,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “The Alaska Economic Stabilization Team brings together some of our state’s most experienced leaders in economics, business, and public policy to assess the challenges and recommend decisive policies to protect jobs, hardworking families, and the overall economy.”

Parnell said in the release that “In times like these, Alaskans come together to fight for our state and our future. Former U.S. Senator Begich and I are ‘all in’ for Alaska and I pledge to work together with him and others to bring more stability and certainty for Alaskans in the days and months ahead.”

Begich, a Democratic, noted how he and Parnell, a Republican, have disagreed on issues.

“But we are facing a global crisis and I believe we all must do our part to protect Alaska’s families, communities, and economy,” Begich said in the release. “There is already so much uncertainty and strain placed on our businesses — both big and small —we can’t afford for partisanship to prevent us from finding a path forward. Those who have worked with me know that I am not afraid of tough conversations so Alaska businesses can feel confident that I will work to make their needs and voices heard.”

Dunleavy was joined at the conference by Alaska House and Senate leaders participating telephonically. Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, Senate President Cathy Giessel and Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich all put aside party differences in support of efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.

“We stand with the governor. We support what he’s doing,” Giessel said. “… We’re all in this together. Together we will come out ahead on this.”

“We’re going to do our job,” Tom Begich said. “We’re going to do the right thing. We’re going to do the work we need to do to make sure Alaskans are safe.”

“You are at the forefront of our minds,” Pruitt said to his fellow Alaskans.

Zink also emphasized the importance of social distancing and self-isolation for people who might be experiencing symptoms or who have recently traveled.

“If you have any symptoms of fever, chills, cough or shortness of breath, you need to stay away from others,” she said. “It’s critically important you not go visit other people.”

Alaska now has 1,650 COVID-19 test kits at the state lab. Zink said she understands a lot of people want to be tested. She said testing is most useful to determine if someone with symptoms is positive and to keep them from spreading the virus to others.

“Testing is a tool to determine who we need to self-isolate,” she said.

Social distancing may be hard, Zink said.

“I feel like we’re social beings,” she said. “…It’s also a time to take care of our elders. Those are the people I am most concerned about. … We need to protect them.”

Dunleavy warned that Alaskans should expect more positive COVID-19 cases.

“We all need to do our part. This is a new virus. It is a virus that is easily spread. It is a virus that impacts older folks,” he said at the press conference. “…There’s no need for panic. We help each other. We’ll get through this. We’ll become a stronger Alaska.”

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