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Anchorage COVID-19 cases rise as CDC releases new definition of ‘close contact’

Anchorage health officials are warning people to take precautions as COVID-19 cases rise.
Anchorage health officials are warning people to take precautions as COVID-19 cases rise.(ktuu)
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 6:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Health Officials are concerned about the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in just the last few weeks. In a news conference Friday, Dr. Janet Johnston, epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department, said the city has averaged 35 positive cases a day in the last two weeks, a big jump from what was considered the “peak” in July and an increase from the weeks prior.

When it comes to where those infections are occurring, the virus is primarily being passed among family members, according to Johnston. Number two on the list is the workplace and number three is social gatherings or crowds.

Johnston said the only way to stop the spread is to take the advice that health officials have been offering all along: wear a mask in public, keep your distance and avoid crowds.

“The places where people are keeping their distance and wearing their masks, we have less transmission,” said Johnston. “And when we see different types of gatherings, things that bring people together in a situation where they might let down their guard and take off their masks, eat something and then not put it back on, that’s where we are seeing the transmission.”

Both Johnston and AHD Director Heather Harris expressed concern about a new definition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of what constitutes a “close contact.”

In the past, that meant anyone who stood within six feet of someone for 15 minutes or more who tested positive for COVID-19. The new definition says that 15 minutes doesn’t have to be all at once, it can be spread throughout a 24-hour period. Harris said the new definition means more people will need testing as well as more work for the people who do contact tracing.

“We do anticipate it having an impact,” said Harris. “And we are already challenged with contract tracing staffing, given the high increase in cases that happened over the last several weeks.”

Johnston said people should do whatever they can to avoid becoming a close contact.

“If you follow behavior that makes it less likely that you can be identified as a close contact, you are also following behavior that makes it much less likely that you could get infected,” she said.

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