Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink addresses the state’s coronavirus preparedness at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska Monday, March 2, 2020. Health officials said there are no known cases of the virus in Alaska but they are prepared in case an outbreak occurs in the nation’s largest state. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink addresses the state’s coronavirus preparedness at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska Monday, March 2, 2020. Health officials said there are no known cases of the virus in Alaska but they are prepared in case an outbreak occurs in the nation’s largest state. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

State, local officials prepare for virus

Official: It’s “highly likely” Alaska will see its first case soon.

The state and borough are preparing for the potential arrival of COVID-19, a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family that first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to countries around the world.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state health department gave updates on the state’s preparedness for the virus during a Monday press conference. There are currently no cases in Alaska. However, three Alaskans have been tested, Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said in the Monday press conference. She said testing began Thursday. Two of those tests came back negative and one test is still pending.

Zink said it’s “highly likely” Alaska will see its first case soon.

Dunleavy said his administration has been meeting twice a week since mid-January to plan for the potential arrival of the virus.

“We believe Alaska is prepared to deal with this issue, as well or better than any state,” Dunleavy said in the conference.

Dunleavy announced he will be asking the Legislature to approve $9 million in funding assistance from the federal government and $4 million from the state general fund to fund five nurses to travel and educate residents in rural Alaska on best practices to avoid contracting the virus.

Zink urged Alaskans to stop touching their face, clean surfaces and wash their hands. If someone is feeling unwell, she said, they should stay home from school or work, cover their mouth and nose when they cough and sneeze and to generally take care of themselves.

She said elderly, disabled and those with underlying heart and lung conditions are the most vulnerable.

With the Iditarod start nearing, Zink said she’s briefed the organization on traveling and how to stay healthy.

Zink also reassured residents that there is no evidence that the virus is living on cargo traveling to and through Alaska.

“You can open your Amazon boxes and not be afraid,” Zink said.

On Friday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management issued a statement on its website, letting residents know the borough is monitoring the virus and is making preparedness plans. Borough officials are refining their plans to make sure essential services continue if the virus comes to the peninsula, the statement said. During the month of March, the borough will be asking cities, port officials, hospitals, tribal entities and non-government agencies to come together to refine existing pandemic plans, identify and resolve potential gaps in those plans, and to involve representatives from the whole community in the process.

The borough does not have public health powers, and will be asking the state to assist them, as the situation evolves, the statement said.

COVID-19 is a relative of the SARS and MERS viruses, which have caused outbreaks in the past. Symptoms for the disease include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble.

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