Dunleavy: State ready for next phase

Alaska has three new positive cases of COVID-19.

Alaska has three new positive cases of COVID-19, according to an announcement on Monday from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Two cases are in Anchorage and one is in Willow. That brings the total Alaska case count to 399.

The three new positive Alaska cases reported Monday reflect data from midnight until 11:59 p.m. on May 17 that posted at noon Monday on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

Of the new Alaska cases, one is male and two are female. One is aged 10-19; one is aged 20-29; and one is aged 30-39.

At Monday night’s press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave a preview of the phase 3 reopening guidelines he plans to announce on Wednesday. In response to a question about if he thinks Alaska is ready to move into the next phase of reopening, Dunleavy said, “I do.”

Dunleavy said that when the pandemic first hit Alaska, the emphasis was to build the capacity of the state health care system so hospitals and health care workers could respond to a surge of COVID-19 cases. Alaska now has that capacity, he said.

On Wednesday, the state will revise its advisories to make them clearer and simpler, Dunleavy said.

“We’re going to condense the advisories down,” he said. “It’s really going to be advisories about what you can do as individuals to stay healthy.”

Dunleavy said the next phase will start to bring Alaska back to normal.

“Pretty soon I think you’re recognize the Alaska we once had,” he said. “We’re going to still ask individuals to adhere to certain practices that individuals can do on their own, but we think will make a big difference in the battle in this virus so we don’t spike our infections … Pretty quick we’ll get back to normal as possible.”

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink reiterated the seriousness of the pandemic.

“I think it’s important to remember this pandemic is not over and that it continues to exist,” she said. “… I think the more ways that we can be healthy and happy together and the ways that we can have that individual and personal responsibility and step up that personal and environmental mitigation, the better off we can be.”

In response to question from the Homer News about if Alaska had cases of children with COVID-19 affected by inflammation of the heart — a condition sometimes called Kawasaki syndrome — Zink said, “We don’t have any cases in the state Alaska that are attributed to that syndrome. … There’s no reason to think we wouldn’t have children affected if our cases were high.”

There have been a total of 43 hospitalizations and 10 deaths, with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported Monday. Recovered cases now total 345, including one new recovered case recorded yesterday. A total of 35,611 tests have been conducted.

Also Monday, DHSS lowered the previous case count for tests of Homer residents from six to five.

“When the state was working on cleaning up information on the COVID-19 dashboard, a case that was previously labeled as Homer was no longer Homer when the person’s residency was added,” wrote DHSS spokesperson Clinton Bennett in an email. “That case was removed from the Homer case count and placed in the ‘other’ section for the Kenai Peninsula.”

Bennett did not identify the residency of the Kenai Peninsula Borough resident beyond the description of “other.” According to the state’s coronavirus response website, communities with fewer than 1,000 residents are combined, and presented in aggregate within the borough/census area total.

Over the weekend, DHSS reported what it said were two new Homer cases, one on Sunday and one on Saturday. On Monday, South Peninsula Hospital Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro wrote in an email that the case reported on Sunday was confirmation by the state of a recent test done at Homer’s local hospital. Ferraro wrote on Monday that this case was not of a resident in Homer city limits but of the greater Homer area. South Peninsula Hospital has done 721 total tests, with 688 tests coming back as negative, five total positive tests and 28 pending, Ferraro wrote.

One of those positive tests was for an Anchor Point man identified as being 80 or older who was brought to the emergency room by Anchor Point Fire & Emergency Services and who died on May 5. DHSS said the man had underlying health conditions. Under state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention death certificate guidelines, a person is listed as having died “of” or “from” COVID-19 if the disease was put on the death certificate as a primary or contributing cause of death.

Bennett did not provide more information on the case DHSS identified on Saturday as a Homer resident. He wrote on Monday he would check with DHSS staff to verify the reporting dates of the Homer cases.

Before this past weekend, only four Homer residents had tested positive for the disease. One of those was a person who tested positive in Anchorage upon returning from a trip. That person also isolated in Anchorage. Three cases are Homer residents who were tested at South Peninsula Hospital. The case DHSS identified on Sunday as a Homer resident is the fifth and latest positive test done at South Peninsula Hospital.

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

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