DHSS: Out-of-state Alaskan dies of coronavirus in Lower 48

Published: Mar. 24, 2020 at 5:57 PM AKDT
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The first coronavirus-related death of an Alaskan has been recorded, but the individual was outside of the state at the time of their death, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

DHSS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said Tuesday evening during a press conference that the individual who passed was in Washington state, had not recently been to Alaska, and was a high-risk case.

Zink said that while the death was outside of Alaska, it brings a realization of realities for local healthcare capabilities in Alaska.

"I can give you a lot of numbers," she said, "but it all depends on what Alaskans do. What you do now is going to literally mean life and death."

DHSS Communications Director Clinton Bennett also said Tuesday afternoon that little information was readily available about the patient who died. The age and gender of the individual were unknown as of press time and not released during the press conference. It was unclear exactly how long the individual had been away from Alaska, but it was long enough that they did not contract the virus in Alaska, officials said.

Seven new cases within Alaska's state borders were also announced Tuesday: Two in Fairbanks, one in Juneau, three in Ketchikan and one in Sterling. Along with a separate case where the individual required hospitalization, the state's

showed the one death related to the virus as of Tuesday afternoon, though updates are being made daily.

For now, there are at least 43 confirmed cases in Alaska, with 20 travel-related, 22 considered unrelated to travel, and one not yet determined.

During the evening press conference, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and officials with DHSS continued the push for heeding experts' advice, particularly regarding social distancing, so that Alaska may continue to slow the increase of those case numbers.

"This is one of those moments in time, even though it's 2020," Dunleavy said, "that there is no shot, there is no pill that's going to make you better, that's going to stop this virus. Practice social distancing, stop shaking hands. I know this sounds like simple stuff, and common sense, but in a crisis such as this, it can make all the difference."

"We talk about what we can do to fight this virus," Zink said. "I think of it as a forest fire. Each of us is a dry piece of kindling if we don't slow this down."

"It's incredibly simple, the advice what we're trying to give," Zink said. "We're trying to slow this down and to build the healthcare infrastructure," including increasing the number of available hospital beds and essential equipment."

Dunleavy said the virus has "declared war," and that the two weeks Alaskans are meant to be hunkering down is allowing the state to "rapidly build up our defense against this virus."

"That takes time," he said, "and it's what you do that gives us the time. The virus needs you to be in close contact with others; it's just that simple."

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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