As coronavirus case count rises, state looks to open additional economic sectors

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 4:52 PM AKDT
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You can stream the press conference live on or the Channel 2 Facebook page. Updates will be shared on Channel 2 News.

The Department of Health and Social Services announced nine new cases of coronavirus in Alaska Friday. Of the new cases, seven are out of Anchorage, one is out of Kenai and one is out of Juneau.

Two of the individuals diagnosed are male and seven are female, with the youngest being between 10 and 19 years of age, and the oldest being between 60 and 69 years of age.

With one new hospitalization, the state has recorded a cumulative total of 36 hospitalizations. No new deaths were reported, leaving the death toll at nine.

At least 9,450 tests have been administered,

, but more testing capacity is on its way to Alaska, officials said. Different sectors and segments of Alaska will also be opening in different locations, little by little, with the goal still being flattening the curve.

When asked whether the goal is to spread infections out to flatten the curve or to prevent and minimize infections until the development of a vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink the main goal is to prevent loss of life, whether those fatalities are coronavirus-related or not.

"How we do that and how that's going to happen is challenging at best," she said.

Still, officials are even eyeing retail as the next sector to open, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy. He said Friday that a team is working on a plan and will continue to do so over the weekend so that it might be shared with the public as early as Monday.

"Alaska is diverse and complex state," Dunleavy said. "Alaska's a little different - the size of a continent, not everyone is connected by road, many communities off the road system, many communities that don't have a robust economic base.

"We're going to be looking at Alaska almost as if it's is own country when we're looking at opening up economic sectors," he said. "If everything goes well, you're going to see more and more success through your work."

This weekend, the state will also be looking at the weeks ahead and what might be done to current health mandates, Dunleavy said, adding that the state "would like to retain restrictions on non-essential travel."

"I think Alaskans thread the needle," he said, adding that Alaska has controlled its numbers better than any other state. "I can't argue with folks that believe that saying stay away from folks, please don't go into large groups, and curtail some of the things you've done your entire life - yeah, that was hard. That is very different.

"We're trying to get back as soon as we can," he said. "We're going to watch the numbers, do the best we can, and I understand we're trying to get back to what we were as quickly as possible."

A total of

, according to the state. Separately, a request that the marijuana industry be included in an upcoming round of federal relief has been submitted, officials said.

Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter was also in attendance Friday and said that, this March, there was a 632 percent increase in filings compared to March 2019. Her department has processed more than unemployment 40,000 claims, she said, as Alaska was hit as we go into an especially busy season, and the economic impacts are "startling."

"It's no secret that economic disruptions have strained unemployment systems across the country," she said. "Alaska is no different."

Ledbetter said she has brought on 100 additional support staff, though it was unclear if that's another set of workers or the group referred to last week. She said the department is working daily to improve and expedite the application process.

The best option for applying, officials said, is still to file online. The application process will open to self-employed individuals on Monday. If you are working full time and you're considering leaving the job to file for unemployment benefits, you will not be eligible, Ledbetter said.

A new virtual chat feature was also activated on the unemployment insurance application page and since early March, more than 38,000 claims have been paid for a total disbursement of tens of millions of dollars to Alaskans, according to the DOL.

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