Municipality: Girdwood gatherings lead to five positive COVID cases, more with symptoms

Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 3:32 PM AKDT
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The Municipality of Anchorage Health Department is monitoring 42 people as close contacts of five people who have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending two private gatherings in Girdwood. The Municipality is reiterating the importance for residents to continue wearing masks and practice physical distancing.

The City's Health Director, Natasha Pineda, said that in the last week, five people who attended a gathering in Girdwood on June 5 have tested positive for COVID-19. Some of those people then attended another gathering on June 11 while possibly infectious, Pineda said. Other attendees of the gatherings have reported symptoms of COVID-19 to the Health Department, but have declined to be tested. Pineda said the people being monitored live in Anchorage, Girdwood and Kenai.

The health department says of the 42 people identified as close contacts of those positive cases, 24 are Girdwood residents.

Dr. Bruce Chandler, the Chief Medical Officer for the Anchorage Municipality, said he has serious concerns about the events in Girdwood, and about further community spread as people are traveling to Alaska and enjoying public spaces either without a COVID-19 test, or before their results come back.

"It's clear some people no longer see the need to practice safe distancing, or to wear a face covering in indoor spaces where safe distancing can't be assured," Chandler said in Friday's Municipality press briefing on COVID-19. "We're finding some people are not following our recommendations for isolation and quarantine."

Chandler cited examples of people who had traveled to Alaska after being tested in the Lower 48, but didn't get their positive test results until after arriving in Alaska and visiting a number of places in Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula. Another person was tested before a dental procedure. Despite not having the test result back, the person underwent the dental procedure, while they were not showing symptoms. A day after the procedure, the person received a positive test result, and began showing symptoms of COVID-19.

"We know in the population that there are people with COVID running around in circulation," Chandler said. "The sneaky thing about COVID is that people can have the infection but may have no symptoms."

He said he's worried about 4th of July events -- particularly if Anchorage residents travel to Seward, a popular holiday weekend destination.

The Girdwood events were a combination of indoors and outdoors, though were mostly outdoors, Pineda said.

Deciding not to be tested

Pineda says some of the people identified through contact tracing relating to the Girdwood events have begun to show symptoms of COVID-19, and some have decided not to get tested. The city can't force people to be tested, but is recommending anyone showing symptoms to act as though they have received a positive test result.

One of the state's emergency travel requirements is that people who are quarantining notify their hotel, rental host, and/or roommates of their quarantine status. During the press conference, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was asked what repercussions there could be, and Berkowitz said that much like forcing people to test, the city can't force people or businesses to take added precautions.

"There is not a great way of tracking all this," Berkowitz said. "We have a limited capacity in this city to do the kind of tracking and monitoring that people may suggest."

In an alert from the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management, the city urges people who have had recent contact with a person who's tested positive for COVID-19 to quarantine by staying home until 14 days after their latest exposure, checking their temperature twice a day and watching for symptoms of COVID-19. Staying at home includes from work or school, unless they are a critical infrastructure worker, the city says.

Staying healthy

The Municipality says even people who have not been exposed to a confirmed case should remain vigilant.

"We're all tired of COVID-19. We wish it would go away, but it's still here and spreading, and almost all of us are not immune," Dr. Chandler said. The virus spreads most easily from person to person whenever people cough, sneeze, talk or sing. "The best way to get COVID is to be in face-to-face contact with a person who is infected."

Chandler said keeping physical distance of at least six feet from people and wearing a face covering indoors outside of your home, and outdoors where it's difficult to maintain a six-foot distance are still important to keep the disease from spreading.

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