Starting in August, airline travelers who are not residents of the state will no longer have the option of getting tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a press conference on Tuesday.
The decision comes in the wake of a continued rise in cases among both residents and nonresidents — another 137 cases were reported Tuesday for a total of 2,450 — and Dunleavy said that the state’s supplies of tests and personal protective equipment, while still stable, have begun to “tighten.”
“Again, as we see a tightening of our supplies and in an effort to reduce the virus coming in, we’re going to need those supplies to deal with some of the outbreaks we’re seeing in the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said. “We will still test residents of Alaska coming and going at the airport if they don’t have a test before they leave and when they come back.”
Starting Aug. 11, all nonresidents arriving at Alaska airports must be able to show negative results from a COVID-19 PCR test that was taken within 72 hours of arrival. Testing will no longer be available at the airport for nonresidents. Nonresidents also no longer have the option of quarantining for 14 days in lieu of a negative test result. Residents will still have the option of being tested at the airport.
When asked how these new restrictions will be enforced, Dunleavy said that more details would be released in the coming weeks, but did not give specifics during the press conference. Part of the reason for delaying the changes until Aug. 11, Dunleavy said, is to give people time to learn about the new requirements and adjust their travel plans accordingly.
“Now some folks are going to say this is going to be problematic, this is a burden, they can’t get the tests,” Dunleavy said. “There’s no doubt that every aspect of our lives is going to be impacted by this virus, including travel. When the cases were lower than they are today, not just here in the state of Alaska but across the globe, you had less of a restriction on supplies of testing materials and things like PPE. We need to use that for our own folks.”
Meanwhile, to slow the spread of the virus among Alaska residents, Dunleavy said that the state would be continuing to “ramp up” its messaging campaign around the importance of social distancing, hand-washing and wearing a mask. The state has also created several charts for local municipalities to reference that show what the risk is in a given area in terms of infection rates and includes potential actions to take depending on the level of risk, which Dunleavy included in his presentation during Tuesday’s press conference.
“This road map, this chart, is going to help people understand where they’re at and what some of the mitigating suggestions could be,” Dunleavy said. “But again I think it’s really important that this discussion happens at the local level … and we’ll continue to modulate this. In other words, instead of just doing a statewide mandate and statewide restrictions that may impact communities that never will see the virus and never have seen the virus, I think we need to take a targeted approach. And these slides, this road map, these charts help us navigate through that and have that discussion.”
COVID-19 in Alaska: By the numbers
The 137 new cases reported by Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services Tuesday includes 110 residents and 27 nonresidents. The state also reported four new hospitalizations, for a total of 120, and one new death associated with COVID-19. The person who died was a male resident of Fairbanks who was in his 40s — bringing the number of state-reported deaths to 22.
A patient who had been treated in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region died on Monday but was not included in the state’s totals for that day. Their death was also related to COVID-19, according to a July 27 press release from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
On the Kenai Peninsula, new resident cases were identified in Kenai (two), Seward (two), Homer (one) and Soldotna (one). Three nonresident cases were also identified in Seward: two are seafood workers and one is still under investigation.
The City of Seward gave an update Monday night on the response to the outbreak at the OBI Seafoods plant, saying that while re-testing employees who had previously tested negative, OBI Seafoods identified another 45 positive cases among its workers over the weekend. Two are local employees who remained in Seward for isolation and treatment, while the other 43 were transported to Anchorage.
It is unclear if these additional cases have been reflected in the state’s currently available data.
Another round of testing for OBI Seafoods employees occurred Monday and an additional round of testing will be conducted Thursday, according to the July 28 press release from the City of Seward. OBI Seafoods will continue to test employees every three days until no additional positive cases are identified.
There have been a total of 213,875 tests conducted statewide, and the average positivity rate of test results in the last three days in 2.65%. On Monday 6,609 tests were processed by state and commercial labs as well as local health care facilities, with 171 tests coming back positive, 6,160 coming back negative and 278 coming back with unknown results.
Locally, Central Peninsula Hospital has conducted a total of 3,137 tests, according to Public Information Officer Bruce Richards. Of those, 53 have produced positive results, 3,021 have come back negative and 59 are still pending results.
South Peninsula Hospital has conducted a total of 6,071 tests, according to Public Information Officer Derotha Ferraro. Of those, 100 have come back positive, 5,860 have come back negative and 111 are pending results.
Testing on the Kenai Peninsula
Testing continues to be available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at South Peninsula Hospital’s main entrance as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.
Testing is also available at the NTC Community Clinic in Ninilchik. The NTC Community Clinic is the Indian Health Service provider for the Ninilchik Tribe.
The clinic is providing testing with a rapid testing 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.
On the central peninsula, testing is available 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.
In Seward, testing is available at Seward Community Health Center, Providence Seward Medical Center, Glacier Family Medicine and Chugachmiut North Star Clinic.
Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
For more information on the state’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, visit covid19.alaska.gov or email email@example.com.
Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org.