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Anchorage Health Department discourages holiday gatherings

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: Nov. 13, 2020 at 3:38 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - During Friday’s Anchorage Health Department COVID-19 update, local health officials warned about people getting together outside of their immediate families during the holiday season.

“We are concerned about increased transmission during the holidays,” AHD Director Heather Harris said. “We are really leaning in and asking the community to consider those activities in a different way this year.”

Epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnson says it’s going to be up to the community to slow the spread of the virus, which is currently straining the local medical field, the business community and school district.

“My feeling is, we don’t need mandates and emergency orders to get the behavior necessary to bring the cases down," Johnston said. "And so the most important thing is for everyone to understand and really internalize the need for masking and distancing and really shrinking your social circles.”

Johnston says the percentage of people testing positive for COVID is over 10%. She says the health department would like to see that number under 3%.

“The high number of cases we are seeing in the city is impacting everyone,” Johnston said. “In addition to the number of people who are sick, we have an incredibly high number of people who are being identified as close contacts who therefore need to quarantine.”

From now to the end of the year, AHD recommends people avoid crowds, close contacts and confined spaces.

“The safest way to celebrate the holidays this year is with people in our households,” Harris said.

Harris recommends alternative measures like meeting on Zoom, outdoor activities, smaller group gatherings with masks being worn when not eating. AHD also recommends people not to travel during the holidays.

Harris also says she defends the Anchorage School District’s decision to delay students returning to schools until after the holiday season.

“Given the rate of transmission and the impacts it’s having on employers throughout the city, including the school district, we recognized that that was an unfortunate decision that had to be made by the school district," Harris said.

Harris said if the numbers do not decrease after the holiday season, there is a good returning to in-person learning could be delayed even further.

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