Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wednesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Office of the Governor)

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, addresses reporters during a Wednesday, March 25, 2020 press conference in the Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska. (Office of the Governor)

‘Not time to be letting our guard down’

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the state is expecting to see more cases.

As Alaska takes steps to reopen its economy, the state is expecting to see more cases of the new coronavirus, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a Monday press conference.

“We expect to see cases pop up here and there, as this disease is kind of sneaky,” Zink said.

Zink said the state believes there is still community spread, but that it’s “minimal.” She said the state would want to see ample testing and 28 days with no cases tied to community spread before they determine community spread no longer exists. She encouraged Alaskans to keep their social circles as small as possible. She said if a person can’t name everyone they spent more than 10 minutes with over the last week, they are interacting with too many people.

“It’s not time to be letting our guard down,” Zink said.

Four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were announced by the state Monday. Two of the cases were in Anchorage, one in Eagle River and one in Wasilla. The total cases count for Alaska is 345.

The state is also reporting one new hospitalization, with 10 current hospitalizations. The state has seen a total of 37 hospitalizations so far. There were no new deaths reported yesterday, and the state’s total deaths from COVID-19 remains at nine. The state is reporting 218 people have recovered from the new coronavirus. There are 16,256 tests that have been conducted in Alaska.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy loosened some parts of his mandates over the weekend, allowing some businesses, including dine-in service under specified conditions and salons, to reopen for business. He said the state is going to “watch the numbers and metrics,” to look for any trends in the number of cases over the next two weeks. He said if a trend begins to take shape, the state will pull back on certain “locales, venues and businesses.”

Payroll Protection Program

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, spoke at the conference via teleconference from his home in Fairbanks, where he is quarantining with his family for 14 days after returning to the state. He said the federal Personal Paycheck Protection Program was replenished this week with $310 billion. He said the program has also been expanded to allow seasonal businesses in Alaska to take advantage of the federal dollars.

Sullivan said he’s also been working with Vice President Mike Pence on making sure Alaska fishermen are included in broader initiatives and relief packages for individuals working in food systems and agriculture.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was also part of the press conference. She said federal business loan opportunities are now again open for Alaskans to apply for.

“We have heard the frustrations with trying to gain access to a system that is overloaded that crashes,” Murkowski said. “… We know that there have been frustrations. What I would urge is that you don’t give up, don’t be discouraged with how long it is taking. Be patient.”

She said she’s seen federal money already distributed to businesses “already being used on the ground.”

In a phone interview with the Homer News on Monday afternoon, Sullivan spoke about a change that takes effect Tuesday in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Working with the Secretary of Treasury, Sullivan was able to get a rule change that allows seasonal businesses to choose any 12-week consecutive base payroll period between May 1 and Sept. 15, 2019 to determine its Payroll Protection Program loan.

“Hopefully it will help small businesses,” Sullivan told Homer News. “I was phoning the treasury secretary literally daily.”

When the CARES Act and the PPP was passed, it was based on a 12-week period beginning Feb. 15 or March 1. Sullivan said that wouldn’t help a seasonal business that saw its payroll peak in mid-summer.

For example, he cited a fishing lodge that in April might have three employees in the winter and would have 35 employees in July. Under the previous rule, the lodge could only use those three employees to calculate its loan.

“That’s not good for the fishing lodge,” he said.

The Payroll Protection Program will give loans to businesses to cover payroll for eight weeks.

That allows small businesses to maintain a relationship with valued employees, Sullivan noted. For example, in a tele-town hall audio conference held last Thursday, April 23, with Sullivan and Murkowski, one caller from Ketchikan who has a business to monitor smoke plumes from cruise ships said with the cruise ship season cut short, he might lose trained observers and have to retrain new employees when the industry recovers.

“The whole point of the Payroll Protection Program was not just to give loans, but also to keep the connection with the small business and its employees,” Sullivan told Homer News.

One issue that has come up is if businesses that got loans under the previous rule can now amend their applications and get a loan for a payroll period that covers the summer season. Sullivan said he’s trying to get answers on that question.

When asked whether Alaskans could expect another $1,200 individual relief check from the federal government, Murkowski said the treasury is still focusing on getting the first payment to Americans. She said it may take “weeks or months” to get all the direct payments in the hands of every eligible American.

Through this week, the governor said his daily press conferences will focus on initial discussions for the second phase of reopening the economy. He said there will be no press conference on Tuesday night.

By the numbers

On the Kenai Peninsula, the state has reported 19 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which includes one death of an Anchor Point resident who died March 29 of complications with COVID-19 while out of state. There are positive cases across the peninsula, including two Homer residents, four Kenai residents, three residents in Seward, six residents in Soldotna and three residents in Sterling have tested positive for COVID-19.

The state is reporting 171 Anchorage residents have tested positive, 80 Fairbanks residents, one person in Delta Junction, one resident in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, 21 residents in the Matanuska Susitna Borough, one Nome resident, one Bethel resident, one Sitka resident, two residents of Craig, three Petersburg residents, 16 residents in Ketchikan and 27 residents in Juneau.

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