COVID-19 testing ramping up in Alaska, concerns for healthcare infrastructure mean social distancing is vital

Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 5:45 PM AKDT
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Governor Mike Duleavy signed legislation today that would provide $4-million in state funds and provides open-ended authority to accept any federal funds for COVID-19 response.

“With this funding, the Department of Health and Social Services is bringing on additional positions and will be able to travel statewide to rural communities to help monitor and screen for the COVID-19 virus,” said Dunleavy.

Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer, said there remains only the one positive test for COVID 19 in the state out of a total of 250 tests. She said testing is ramping up across the state.

“Remember the test itself only comes back positive if you have enough virus in your nose to test for it,” said. “So if you just recently traveled to the Lower 48 or Europe, there’s no reason to test if you’re not symptomatic because I may not pickup that virus and it’s not protective of the next month or two months.” Dr. Zink also reminded people should self-quarantine if they’ve recently traveled to a Level 3 location.

Zink says that as the testing ramps up, it will become more efficient and quicker. “We’re hearing rumors about actual on-point testing,” she said. “So a provider can run it right there like a rapid flu and get that response back.” Those kinds of tests have not been approved by the FDA but Zink says they are pushing for those types tests as soon as possible. “So every single community in the state of Alaska could test right there and have the results right there.” She says at this point they are able to do the testing they think is appropriate.

Zinc repeated again the recommendations to social distance saying it was vital due to the limitations on the health care infrastructure.

“We are concerned about our infrastructure on Alaska otherwise we would not be recommending cancelling elective surgeries," said Zink. "We would not be having all these social mitigations. We are concerned about that as is the rest of the United States.”

With regards to closing bars and restaurants, Dunleavy says they have that discussion once or twice a day.

“One of the trigger points we would be looking at is if we had a community infection,” said Dunleavy. “In other words, if we had someone who lives in the state of Alaska that tested positive we could then give serious consideration to limiting the ability for folks to go to restaurants, movie theaters, etc. statewide. We’re not there yet. The Municipality of Anchorage felt they wanted to be there sooner which is a decision the municipality made…we’re prepared to pull that trigger if we need to, we just don’t feel it has to happen at this moment. That may change tonight. That may change tomorrow.”

Dunleavy also addressed the concern about the economic impact of COVID-19.

“We know there’s going to be economic fallout. We know that this is going to impact Alaskans, businesses and workers,” said Dunleavy. “This is a process that we are going to stand up and approach very diligently and focus on over the next several days, going out weeks and possibly months.”

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