Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Thursday, April 9, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a Thursday, April 9, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

8th Alaskan dies of COVID-19, Kenai reports its 3rd case

11 new cases reported Saturday, bringing state total to 257

A Fairbanks woman died Friday morning at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Her death, tied to COVID-19, marks the eighth death of an Alaska resident overall.

The Anchorage Daily News and the Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported the woman’s death Friday. She was 73 years old and had underlying health conditions, according to Foundation Health Partners, the organization that runs the hospital, the outlets reported.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported the eighth death on Saturday. The state’s report of COVID-19 cases is made each day at noon and reflects the previous 24-hour period from midnight to 11:59 p.m. With 11 new cases reported by the state Friday and another 11 on Saturday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska is now 257

On Friday, the state reported 11 new COVID-19 cases: three in the Anchorage area, three in Fairbanks, one in North Pole, one in Juneau, one in Wasilla, one in Palmer and one in Kenai.

Of the new cases reported Saturday, nine are in Anchorage, one is in Wasilla and one is in Craig — the first case to be announced in that community.

The Kenai case reported Friday is Kenai’s third case and brings the total number of cases associated with Kenai Peninsula residents to 15. One of those 15 cases is a Homer resident who was tested and treated in Anchorage, and one of those 15 cases was an Anchor Point resident who died out of state.

As of Saturday afternoon, a cumulative total of 31 people had been hospitalized for the disease. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a Friday press conference that as of Friday there were only 12 people currently being hospitalized. The cumulative number includes people who have since died or since recovered and gone home.

A total of 63 people have now recovered from COVID-19, DHSS reported Saturday. The state had tested more than 7,700 people for the novel coronavirus as of Saturday, according to the DHSS website.

The Juneau case reported on Friday is a correctional officer working at Lemon Creek Correction Center, the state announced and the Juneau Empire reported. The State Epidemiology team is working to identify anyone who may have been exposed to the disease by the correctional officer in order to notify and quarantine them, the Empire reported. Zink confirmed this during Friday’s press conference.

The state of Alaska and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium both obtained supplies of rapid testing machines from Abbott Laboratories — the state got 50 and ANTHC got 40. The consortium has already distributed its machines to tribal organizations and communities, mostly in rural areas of Alaska.

Zink said Friday that the state is still working on distributing its supply of the rapid test machines to communities around Alaska. When asked whether the state would consider sending a rapid test machine to each of the state’s correctional facilities, given the case of the correctional officer testing positive at Lemon Creek and the importance of being able to know quickly whether the disease is spreading in a closed system like a prison, Zink said the machines are able to be redeployed where necessary.

“There’s all these tools, and we’re gaining more tools every day on the way that we can fight this disease, and the Abbott test is one of those,” she said. “… It can be done quickly. Everyone wants to know the answer quickly and there’s some real reason, particularly like you mentioned in a correctional facility, to be able to do that.”

Health care facilities are another place where it can be very helpful to have quick test results, Zink said.

“So we initially distributed them to kind of brace us and to kind of bridge us while we were trying to get more of the hospital ones up and running,” she said. “And the hope is to then redeploy those to more rural areas, and/or to facilities like prisons, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, where we need kind of a rapid test that they may not be able to otherwise do.”

Dr. Robert Onders, medical director for ANTHC, emphasized the importance of giving rural Alaska communities the power to carry out localized testing in a timely manner.

“You have to have rural, locally based testing ability,” he said. “… The more locally based testing that we can quickly apply, the more likely we can control the spread in these communities.”

The state reported that, last week, a staff member at McLaughlin Youth Center within the DHSS Division of Juvenile Justice tested positive for COVID-19.

“Testing of staff and youth at the facility was completed last Sunday and results have been returned,” a press release from DHSS said. “No positive cases were found as a result of the testing. Operations have resumed, with no one needing isolation to prevent the spread of illness and all staff returning to work.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum announced the suspension of a number of fees and fines from multiple state departments in order to provide some relief and flexibility as businesses and residents continue to cope with the altered living situation the novel coronavirus has caused.

The disaster order suspends fees, fines and requirements including on-site inspection requirements for birth centers, in-person requirements for Office of Children’s Services visits, the requirement to submit a certificate of need to increase bed capacity at a facility, and nearly 70 different types of corporate filing fees within the Department of Commerce.

The full order and list of suspensions can be found at https://gov.alaska.gov/newsroom/2020/03/31/governor-announces-progress-on-alaska-covid-19-economic-stabilization-plan/.

The suspension of the fees, fines and regulations is effective through May 11.

Locally, South Peninsula Hospital reported Friday morning that it has sent 110 samples off to be tested. Of those, 91 tests have come back negative and 18 are still pending. The hospital has had only one positive test so far.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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