As coronavirus case count sees biggest rise to date, several state mandates are altered

Alaska COVID-19 case count as of Tuesday, April 7, 2020 according to Alaska Department of...
Alaska COVID-19 case count as of Tuesday, April 7, 2020 according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services data (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 7, 2020 at 4:53 PM AKDT
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You can watch the press conference back in full on the Channel 2 Facebook page. Updates will also be shared on the Channel 2 Late Edition.

The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services on Tuesday provided an update on the status of coronavirus in Alaska, sharing some of its plan for rural parts of the state and announcing the adjustment of several statewide mandates, including those halting elective medical procedures and banning public gatherings.

There are now 213 Alaskan cases of coronavirus recorded statewide, including 22 new cases since Monday, the largest jump since tracking began. Of those additional cases, two are from North Pole, nine are from Fairbanks, 10 are from Anchorage and one is from Bethel, the first recorded in rural Alaska. Twelve of the patients are male, and 10 are female. There have also been 23 hospitalizations cumulatively, along with more than two dozen full recoveries. The state says 6,913 tests have been administered to date.

As for the case in Bethel, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation received confirmation of the first positive case in Bethel at 5 p.m. on April 6, according to DHSS. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink added that case locations are based on the residence of the patient, and not where they are right now. She also said there can be somewhat of a delay in data, even if test results are shared quickly, such as with the Bethel case.

"The cases you see today are essentially people who got this disease one or two weeks ago," Zink said. "None of us have seen COVID as a disease prior to this outbreak. This is a novel virus, a new disease."

Zink said testing criteria in Alaska actually makes it so that more people should be able to get tested. The requirements are broader than the Centers for Disease Control's, she said, and include anyone who's had close contact with a patient, anyone who's over the age of 65 with any symptoms, and a clause in which providers may use clinical discretion if symptoms are consistent with those of coronavirus.

She added that there is no perfect count on people who may be under investigation, but that the state is doing what it can to track each aspect of the cases across Alaska.

"None of these numbers (by themselves) tell the whole picture," she said.

Regarding an emergency response specifically for rural Alaska, there are 19 different alternative sites being set up across remote communities in the state. DHSS has also been identifying quarantine areas for locations outside of urban towns. Drive-through testing is available in Bethel and health aides have been trained via a distance learning program sponsored by ANTHC. New testing machines and kits have been sent out to select villages with larger populations, and of an added 50 rapid testing machines for DHSS, those are being distributed to rural areas.

Multiple mandates were also altered as of Tuesday. A mandate regarding elective medical surgeries and procedures, implemented on March 19, has been extended. Elective healthcare,

is meant to be suspended and services postponed or cancelled until June 15. These actions can preserve staff, personal protective equipment, and patient care supplies, officials said; and ensure staff and patient safety, as well as expand available healthcare capacity.

"We're a tough state, tough people," Gov. Mike Dunleavy said, "and we continue to build up our defenses against this virus."

As Good Friday and Easter near, both taking place this coming weekend, DHSS officials said they received a lot of input about COVID-19 Health Alert 011, which initially prohibited public gatherings.

"We wanted to formalize some guidance," said Commissioner Adam Crum said Tuesday, adding that there's been a lot of input regarding religious gatherings.

Live-streaming of religious services is allowed so long as groups do not exceed 10 people, and social distancing of six feet or more is being used, unless someone is projecting their voice, in which case they must be at least 10 feet away. For drive-in gatherings of any sort, only household members are allowed in each vehicle, and cars must be parked six or more feet apart.

A Day of Prayer gathering will take place via a digital conference on Friday at 2 p.m. as a "moment of prayer and hope," and opportunity for Alaskans to get together.

"Slowly, we will release advisories that say we can pull back on this area or that area," Dunleavy said, "but we're not there yet."

Orders are coming in from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said, but "taking longer than we'd hoped." In the meantime, the state is seeking additional stores of equipment. Manufacturers who want to participate in assisting the state with producing personal protective equipment, such as masks, visors, and more, should reach out to the state.

On Monday, Dunleavy continued discussions

. He also said this week is when we'll "see where we are at," as he and the administration take the fight against the virus "in two week chunks."

This story is being updated. Please check back for details.
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