State ECHO meeting, governor’s press conference diverge in concerns over COVID-19

Two meetings, two takes on coronavirus
Dr. Anne Zink discusses the chart showing Alaska with a steep case count curve, specifically...
Dr. Anne Zink discusses the chart showing Alaska with a steep case count curve, specifically when taking population into account.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 12:14 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state on Wednesday provided multiple updates — and different perspectives — regarding resources, response and reaction to climbing COVID-19 case numbers.

The two main events included a press conference hosted by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and a science Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes session held by the Department of Health and Social Services. Each had seemingly different takes on where Alaska stands with the pandemic, but while questions swirl about the statewide spikes, both parties said Alaskans must do their parts as individuals if there’s any chance of stopping the spread.

“For the fourth week in a row, we’ve really had an increase in cases,” said Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the state. “This past week, we had a 56% increase in cases Alaska is fifth [nationally] right now in cases per capita."

Following another triple-digit increase in cases statewide on Wednesday, state health officials urged further caution as coronavirus case counts spike, but Dunleavy addressed Alaskans with a different message.

“The question really is, is the virus real? Is it not real? It’s not real, it is real,” he said. "The truth is somewhere in between because the early models predicted high rates of infection — 500,000 infected, 100,000 hospitalized and upwards of 20,000 would die.

“Thank God that hasn’t happened,” he said, “but it is real in the sense that, it does exist. And it’s highly contagious.”

Though Dunleavy maintained during his press conference that the major spike seen statewide isn’t unexpected, he still spoke in wariness of the risks posed to the state’s health care system and the potential to overwhelm it.

“If we can all do more, do better, we lessen the ability of this virus to spread,” he said.

Alaska is, however, now rising high in the ranks against state across the country; an accolade health official would rather not have.

“The East Coast wave is that first wave, like New York,” Zink said, referencing a chart showing case curves nationally, based on population. “The second wave is the Southern wave, Texas, Florida, Arizona. And the third wave, we’re seeing most states in the country picking up quickly.”

DHSS reported 353 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, along with an additional coronavirus-related fatality. The state high of 526 new cases was reported Sunday, with cases above 300 each day since.

Despite the varying degrees of concern, all in all, a request from the state’s top officials: Do what you can to stop the spread.

“All we’re doing is asking Alaskans to recognize that, the virus exists,” Dunleavy said, “and there are ways to mitigate you getting it or spreading it.”

Zink said that the more individual Alaskans make conscious decisions to slow the spread of the disease, the more people can change the course of the pandemic.

“The more we can slow it down,” she said, “not overwhelm our health care system, make sure we’re maintaining mental and physical health, that is important.”

Dunleavy said Wednesday that several developments are underway for the state’s coronavirus response, though they have not yet been officially implemented. Among those are more tests, additional rapid test machines, antigen tests and several new testing sites and labs for communities across Alaska.

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