A day after Alaska saw its highest single-day increase of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a press conference Monday to address the recent rise in cases.
“Like waves, this pandemic will come in waves until there’s a vaccination or it extinguishes itself through some evolutionary process,” Dunleavy said during the press conference.
Dunleavy compared the state’s response to COVID-19 to preparing for a tsunami, where everyone goes down to the beach and locks arms, preparing for the impact.
“If the analogy is that we expected a tsunami to come, and they (Alaskans) locked arms, and they girded themselves, and they steadied themselves and they were ready for what could have been a life-and death event,” Dunleavy said.
Alaskans prepared for the worst in the first wave, Dunleavy said, which ended up being an “ankle-splasher.”
“We will probably have more waves coming, and some of them may be deeper, some of them will be higher, some of them may unsteady us a bit and we may have to make adjustments in our posture and how we approach these waves,” Dunleavy said. “But if we do that, we’re still going to get through it.”
Dunleavy maintained that as long as the state’s hospitals do not experience a surge in severe COVID-19 cases, the state would not be mandating any additional closures or restrictions on businesses or individuals.
Alaska’s chief medical officer, Anne Zink, said via Twitter on Saturday that the state is “headed in the wrong direction,” when it comes to the number of new cases each day. When asked Monday if Alaskans should be worried about the recent rise in cases, Zink said Alaskans have to continue to make responsible decisions when it comes to social distancing, hand-washing and wearing masks, otherwise the virus will continue to spread quickly.
“The more numbers, the more chance that we have it affecting long-term care facilities, congregate settings and people who are more vulnerable,” Zink said. “And so the more we can do to be able to all step into this challenging space together, the better off we’re going to be.”
Zink noted that the majority of cases among Alaska residents have occurred among young adults — people in their 20s make up the highest percentage of cases (23%) in the state, followed by people in their 30s (19.23%). Alaska’s chief epidemiologist, Joe McLaughlin, said that this is relatively good news, in the sense that young adults have been less likely to contract a serious form of the illness or die than older adults.
The bad news, McLaughlin said, is that these age groups are also the most likely to gather in group settings, like bars or restaurants, which could be contributing to the recent rise in cases.
When asked if the state had a plan for when schools start in the fall, given that the state’s COVID-19 outbreak is worse than it was when schools closed in March, Dunleavy said that each school district, and possibly each individual school, will likely have different plans for opening depending on the size of the community and how widespread COVID-19 is in any given area.
Dunleavy added that a separate press conference with Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson will be held at the beginning of August to address the plans for Alaska’s schools.
Alaska’s contact tracing capacity is continuing to increase. The state’s director of Public Health, Heidi Hedberg, said during the press conference that 139 staff with the University of Alaska system have been trained in contact tracing and are beginning their work this week, with another 30 National Guard members and school district nurses starting their training soon.
COVID-19 in Alaska: By the numbers
Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services reported 116 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and another 71 cases Monday, for a total of 1,539 residents and 306 nonresidents identified since March.
On Sunday, eight Kenai Peninsula residents and one nonresident located in Seward tested positive. Four of the residents reported Sunday are from Soldotna, three are from Kenai and one is from Seward.
On Monday, three peninsula residents tested positive — one each in Kenai, Soldotna and Seward. Additionally, one of the nonresident cases reported Monday was located in Kenai.
There are 1,135 active cases statewide, including 108 cases on the Kenai Peninsula.
Another hospitalization of a COVID-19 patient was reported Monday as well. Alaska has now had 87 people hospitalized from the disease since the state began tracking the pandemic. Currently, there are 22 people hospitalized who are either COVID-positive or are awaiting their test results. No COVID-19 patients are currently being treated on a ventilator.
Statewide, 146,590 tests for COVID-19 have been conducted. The average positivity rate of tests processed in the last three days is 1.89%.
Kenai Peninsula testing locations
Testing is available on the Central Peninsula at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice. Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
In the Seward area, testing is available at Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and the Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic.
The NTC Community Clinic in Ninilchik is providing testing for COVID-19. The NTC Community Clinic is the Indian Health Service provider for the Ninilchik Tribe. The clinic is providing testing with a rapid test machine to those with symptoms, travelers and asymptomatic people. There are currently no restrictions on who can get tested. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.
Other southern Kenai Peninsula testing sites are at South Peninsula Hospital and at SVT Health and Wellness Clinics in Anchor Point, Homer and Seldovia. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228. The testing hours at South Peninsula Hospital are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
For more information on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit covid19.alaska.gov or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday’s press conference can be viewed in full on the governor’s official Facebook page.