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Anchorage releases locations of COVID exposures as contact tracing system is overwhelmed

Illinois Department of Public Health officials have announced 623 new confirmed cases of...
Illinois Department of Public Health officials have announced 623 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Additionally, there are 72 confirmed deaths. (MGN Image) (KWQC)
Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 3:02 PM AKDT
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As contact tracers have become overwhelmed with an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the Anchorage Health Department has decided to release the names of businesses where people infected with COVID-19 visited for an extended period of time.

The list does not include informal gatherings and is composed primarily of local bars and restaurants.

“With the current surge in cases and related contacts, our public health tracing capacity is maxed out,” Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said. “At this time, particularly at locations where physical distancing and use of face coverings are unlikely to occur, the number of contacts is too large and complex for traditional contact tracing.”

The department is asking people who were at these locations during the given exposure period to monitor their symptoms and to seek testing if COVID-19 symptoms manifest. People can still be infectious up to two days before symptoms show and up to ten days after, the department said.

"While this is a list of confirmed exposures, please remember that COVID-19 is spreading quickly throughout our community," Anchorage Health Department said in a statement.

Releasing the names of establishments is just the first step, the health department said. Soon, the Anchorage Health Department will have a webpage for putting out exposure notices.

This is not the first time businesses have been named in relation to potential COVID-19 exposures. At the end of June, the Department of Health and Social Services put out an advisory asking residents who had visited the Seward Alehouse or the Yukon Bar on certain dates to seek out COVID-19 testing.

The contact system has become overwhelmed as people interact with more individuals outside of their household or social bubble. The increasing number of potentially exposed contacts, compounded with rising cases in the state, has made it difficult to contact every person who has been exposed to the virus.

“Early on, people who tested positive usually had a short list of close contacts,” Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist, said. “Now, as people are mixing more with others, it’s not uncommon for someone who tests positive to have had dozens of close contacts, sometimes too many to name and call. That’s making it really difficult for our contact tracers to keep pace.”

DHSS said it is working on expanding the contact tracing workforce, but for now, tracers will prioritize checking in with high-risk individuals and citizens of rural communities with less access to medical care.

While all contact tracing has been done by the Alaska Division of Public Health in coordination with Anchorage Health Department and other regional health entities, the state is now partnering with more organizations.

Alaska Air National Guard members with health training will be deployed to help contact tracing efforts and the University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health is creating a program that will train contact tracers to be directly hired into the position.

The businesses on the list are located in Anchorage, Eagle River, Palmer and Seward. The list includes the number of already identified cases at each establishment and dates for when people who were infectious spent "extended time" in the business.

  • Anchorage Moose Lodge #1534: 8 — expsure period June 23-28
  • Panhandle Bar: 6 — exposure period June 16-24
  • JJ’s Lounge: 6 — exposure period June 15-18
  • The Gaslight Bar: 5 — exposure period June 25-27
  • Williwaw Social: 3 — exposure period June 20-21 and June 25
  • Chilkoot Charlie’s: 2 — exposure period June 18-25
  • Cabin Tavern: 2 — exposure period June 24-25
  • F Street Station: 2 — exposure period June 20 and June 25
  • Eddie’s Sports Bar: 1 — exposure period June 18
  • Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse: 1 — exposure period June 25
  • Pioneer Bar: 1 — exposure period June 20
  • Bernie’s Bungalow Lounge: 1 — exposure period June 25
  • Great Alaskan Bush Company: 1 — exposure period June 24
  • Asia Garden: 1 — exposure period June 24
  • The Blue Line Pub & Café: 1 — exposure period June 17
  • Homestead Sports Lounge: 1 — exposure period June 26
  • Matanuska Brewing Company Eagle River Location: 2 — exposure period June 26
  • Spurs Bar and Grill: 3 — exposure period June 23-27
  • Yukon Bar: 2 — exposure period June 23-25

The high rate of COVID-19 spread noted at bars and restaurants prompted the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association to release new

for businesses. CHARR is asking businesses to limit capacity, expand outdoor seating and require all patrons to wear a mask.

The notice comes as the COVID-19 cases in the state continue to reach all-time highs daily. On Friday, DHSS reported 60 new cases with 46 in residents and 14 in nonresidents. Approximately half of Alaska’s total COVID-19 cases are active cases.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available. Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.