Novel coronavirus

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab.

Credit: NIAID-RML

The state Department of Health and Social Services reported four new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska residents Sunday, bringing the state total to 396. 

Two of the new cases were confirmed in Anchorage residents, one in a resident of Juneau and one in a resident of Homer.

The new Juneau case was confirmed as a staff member at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. This is the 11th staff member of the facility to test positive for COVID-19. All staff and inmates were tested late last week at the facility with more test results due back soon. So far, no inmates have tested positive, according to the state health department.

Another out-of-state worker has also tested positive for COVID-19. 

That case is of a seafood industry worker who is still under quarantine in Anchorage. This case is not yet listed in the nonresident count on the state's website. The state does not include nonresident cases in the state tally but keeps a separate count. 

Two new hospitalizations were reported Friday and two new hospitalizations were reported Saturday, bringing the state total to 43 hospitalizations. This is a cumulative number and does not represent the current number of Alaskans in hospitals due to COVID-19. No new hospitalizations were reported Sunday.

State data shows 13 state residents are currently in hospitals either due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 or being under investigation and awaiting test results. 

No new deaths were reported Sunday. Of the 396 total confirmed cases, a reported 344 Alaskans have recovered, according to state health department data. 

One of the new cases reported earlier in the weekend was also confirmed as an out-of-state resident working as a seafood processor. That worker was in Dillingham. 

“We know this is concerning to hear about another seafood industry case, but we continue to be reassured that these cases are being detected and contained,” Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said of the nonresident case reported Sunday.  “All of the safeguards designed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading or entering new communities while allowing essential business to continue in Alaska are helping detect cases before these individuals leave quarantine.”

For local leadership in the Bristol Bay area, though, the nonresident cases are concerning. 

The first case only underlined concerns expressed by local area leaders and health officials in leading up to the massive influx of out-of-state workers for the state's commercial fishing season.

“This incident exemplifies why testing and enforced quarantine must be a requirement for all incoming fishermen, a much more vulnerable group facing more challenges than processors when it comes to sanitation, adequate quarantine, and health care and evacuation support," said Norm Van Vactor of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. "Our region has been asking the state of Alaska to require mandatory pre-arrival quarantine and testing for the last six weeks.

"Fishermen have been and continue to arrive daily and we do not have adequate protections in place," he said. "Time is up and where is the enforcement?"

Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a health mandate earlier this month regarding commercial fisheries that urged workers to remain onboard vessels whenever possible and wear masks when around others. That may not be enough though, some local leaders say.

“If the state doesn’t act immediately to mandate fishermen be tested before arriving, combined with quarantine and provide enforcement, we will be facing a disaster that could have been prevented,” Ralph Andersen of Bristol Bay Native Association said.

The statements from local leaders were made prior to the reporting of a second seafood industry worker testing positive. 

So far the state has reported 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in out-of-state residents in Alaska. It remains unclear how many of these are workers who have traveled to the state recently. 

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.