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. (Photo courtesy 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. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Zink urges personal responsibility as cases rise

Officials discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, rent and mortgage relief and testing out-of-state visitors.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a press conference Wednesday night to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, rent and mortgage relief and how the state has been handling its protocol for testing out-of-state visitors as they arrive at the airport.

With 20 new cases reported across Alaska on Wednesday, Dunleavy said the state would continue to monitor surges and hot spots as they appear. The current infection rate is still not enough to overwhelm Alaska’s health care system, Dunleavy said, and therefore does not warrant any additional health mandates from the state.

“We’re keeping an eye on our hospital beds, our ICU beds, our PPE, all the equipment we talked about,” Dunleavy said. “So far, nothing unusual is occurring.”

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during the press conference that the state now has the highest number of active cases since it began recording these numbers, and added that Alaskans must continue to exercise personal responsibility in mitigating the spread of the virus and get tested at the first sign of symptoms.

“Alaskans, we really stand together at 6 feet apart,” Zink said. “The work that you’re doing has been tremendous, and I really love all the creative ways that Alaskans are finding to stay strong together as we’re seeing some additional cases.”

Alaska has implemented increased testing procedures since the beginning of the outbreak and is currently eighth among states for tests conducted per capita, Zink said. While the increase in testing has contributed to the increase in positive cases, the positivity rate for testing has remained relatively consistent and is currently at .9%. Zink also cited family gatherings like graduation parties, Memorial Day weekend events and recent protests as sources of increased infection numbers.

Zink made note of several “clusters” of cases within the state: the Providence Transitional Care Center in Anchorage, the state ferry M/V Tustumena, Whittier Seafoods and the Kenai Peninsula Borough in general.

While the Kenai Peninsula reported nine new cases on Wednesday and currently has 62 active cases, the Fairbanks North Star Borough has had no new cases in some time and has no active cases at this time. Zink said that the Fairbanks area experienced a spike in cases early in the pandemic, but got it under control through aggressive testing and contact tracing, local businesses being “COVID-conscious,” and a little bit of luck.

Dunleavy and Zink were joined by Bryan Butcher, the executive director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, to discuss $10 million in federal funding that AHFC will be distributing in July to Alaskans who have lost income as a result of the pandemic and can no longer pay their rent or mortgage.

The window to apply for the assistance will open next Monday, June 15, and will close the following Friday, June 26. Alaskans can apply online at alaskahousingrelief.org or by calling or texting “RELIEF” to 833-440-0420.

The Commissioner for Alaska’s Department of Transportation, John MacKinnon, was also present at the press conference to discuss the current situation with the Tustumena ferry as well how the newest air travel restrictions are being implemented.

A total of six crew members on the Tustumena have tested positive for COVID-19 since Saturday when the ship was docked in Dutch Harbor. Now docked in Homer, the ferry has three of the positive crew members quarantining onboard. An additional 10 crew members are on the ship in order to keep it operational. After the crew members finish their quarantine, the ship will be sanitized and will sit for three days. MacKinnon said he anticipates the Tustumena will resume operations somewhere around June 27, when it is scheduled to sail to Kodiak.

In eight airports around Alaska, health professionals contracted with the state are screening and testing all passengers as they come off the planes. Any nonresident who has not gotten a test prior to arrival has to be tested at the airport. MacKinnon said the process is going smoothly, in part because airline traffic is currently about 20% of what it normally is.

The Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage is seeing approximately 1,800 passengers per day, MacKinnon said. The Fairbanks International Airport is seeing about 600.

The full press conference can be viewed on Dunleavy’s official Facebook page.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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