JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska has recorded its first death from the coronavirus, state officials said Tuesday evening.
Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said the elderly person in a high risk group contracted the virus and died in Washington state.
The person had not recently traveled to Alaska and had been in Washington for a while. No other details about the person, including age or gender, were released.
Even though the death was in Washington state, Zink said the death is counted for Alaska under rules from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the person was an Alaska resident. The death was not included in Washington state totals.
“We have lost an Alaskan to this virus and we have an Alaskan who is hospitalized and is quite ill,” Zink said.
The virus “comes closer and closer to our shore, and closer and closer to each of our homes and each of our lives,” she said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy also said there were six additional positive cases in Alaska reported Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 42. The six new cases include two each in Fairbanks and Ketchikan, and one each in Juneau and Sterling.
Both Dunleavy and Zink urged proper precautions, such as washing hands regularly and maintaining social distance, especially in the near term to prevent further spread of the disease.
“You got to stay away from others. Two weeks is what we’re asking,” Dunleavy said at a news conference. “It’s going to save lives. It’s going to help you not get sick.”
DISASTER DECLARATION EXTENDED
The Alaska Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would extend Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s public health disaster emergency declaration over the coronavirus.
The bill, introduced at Dunleavy’s request, still must be considered by the House.
The bill would extend the declaration issued March 11 until Sept. 1, and call for regular reports from the administration on how money was spent to respond to the virus. The bill, as initially proposed, called for a one-year extension.
The measure also would allow Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, after consultation with the state health commissioner, to have the state primary or a special statewide election this year held by mail. Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich raised questions about the logistics of this. The bill would allow the state elections director to adopt regulations needed to carry out the provision.
The primary is scheduled for August. On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on whether an effort to recall Dunleavy should advance. If it does, recall supporters hope to gather enough signatures to force a recall election.
Among cases of coronavirus announced in Alaska were two in Ketchikan and one person in Juneau who was in a critical care unit.
The Juneau patient had traveled to both Oregon and Washington state, and state health officials believe that was the source of the virus, according to a release from the City and Borough of Juneau.
Public health officials in Juneau are working with the person’s family to determine what contacts they had. The nurses will then reach out to people who have had extended contact within 48 hours of when the person experiences symptoms like cough, fever and shortness of breath.
Ketchikan officials announced on Facebook that two people who do not have a recent history of travel sought testing after experiencing the symptoms.
They self-quarantined, and Ketchikan public health officials will monitor them to ensure self-isolation. Public health nurses will investigate and inform people who might have come in contact with them.
Of Alaska’s confirmed cases, Ketchikan’s total of eight represents nearly 20% of the cases.
“HUNKER DOWN” ORDER
Alaska’s capital city has issued a “hunker down” order for residents in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, with businesses considered nonessential also ordered to close to the public.
The order was to take effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday and last for two weeks. It orders Juneau residents to stay at home as much as possible, except to work in critical jobs, seek health care, groceries or other goods deemed critical and get fresh air without contacting others. People, when they do venture out, are to stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) from others outside their household when possible.
An extensive list of businesses deemed critical include hospitals, those engaged with critical infrastructure, such as utilities, public transportation and barge services; grocery stores; gas stations; banks; hardware stores; hotels; mailing or shipping services and laundromats.
Marijuana retailers also are on the list. Industry officials have expressed concern that temporarily shuttering shops could lead people to buy cannabis on the black market.
Other communities in Alaska have issued similar “hunker down” orders.