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

Updated 8:04 p.m.: Alaska has three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 since Monday — one each in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Ketchikan, bringing the statewide total to six.

The new cases were announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a meeting with reporters Tuesday evening during which he rolled out two new health mandates.

The first mandate orders the indefinite suspension of all dine-in services at any bars, breweries, restaurants and other food and beverage services statewide beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m. The mandate also orders the closure of public gathering spaces such as theaters and bowling alleys until further notice.

The second mandate outlines guidelines and requirements for individuals who have recently returned to Alaska from traveling outside the state. 
 

If an individual has returned to Alaska within the last two weeks from traveling to a high risk area with widespread and ongoing community spread of COVID-19 — such as Europe, China or other countries listed by the Centers for Disease Control as “level 3 health notice areas” — they are required to contact their employer and stay home as well as avoid contact with other household members if at all possible for at least 14 days.


If an individual has returned to Alaska within the last two weeks from a medium risk area –– meaning anywhere outside of Alaska ––  they must keep at least six feet of distance from others, stay home from work or school if they are unable to remain safely distanced from others and avoid crowded spaces such as grocery stores and other public areas.

Three cases have been confirmed in Fairbanks so far, two in Anchorage, and one in Ketchikan. All six cases have been classified as travel-related.

"We've been talking about this for some time. We've been preparing for this and it is starting to escalate," Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital confirmed in a Tuesday evening news release that the third Fairbanks individual to test positive was tested at a First Care facility in Fairbanks. The individual is a female who traveled outside of Alaska recently and was self-isolating prior to testing. She is in stable condition and does not require hospitalization, according to the hospital.

The first two Fairbanks cases, reported by the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital late Monday night, were identified as two older men who recently returned from outside Alaska. The cases of the two men are not believed to be related.

Zink confirmed Tuesday evening that the two men traveled within Fairbanks after returning and were experiencing mild symptoms before being tested. Since the confirmation of the first two Fairbanks cases, state health officials have been tracking the movements and interactions of the two men. Zink added that she thinks nearly all individuals who interacted with the two men have been contacted.

Investigation into the movements and interactions of the third positive Fairbanks case is ongoing, Zink said, noting she was made aware of the third Fairbanks case as she was walking into the news conference Tuesday evening.

In the Ketchikan case, a news release from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough stated that the individual who tested positive has a history of travel to the Lower 48.

“Upon experiencing symptoms of illness, the individual self-isolated and sought testing through a Ketchikan clinic. The individual is an employee of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough,” the news release reads.

"Ketchikan Public Health officials have made contact with this individual and will continue to monitor his condition to ensure continued self-isolation," the statement reads. "Public Health officials will initiate a contact investigation and reach out to any person who may have come into contact with this individual. Public Health will notify and isolate additional persons as appropriate."

Borough employees who had direct contact with the infected individual will be self-isolating for a minimum of 14 days. Employees who were not in contact with the individual may return to work sooner, the borough statement reads.

The Ketchikan borough has contracted for a commercial disinfectant service for the entirety of the White Cliff Building, which is the borough's administrative center, and outside areas of the building.

"We want to reassure the public that we are working closely with Ketchikan Public Health to identify anyone who may be at risk for having contact with this individual," the statement reads.

No additional information was given about the new Anchorage case other than that it too is considered "travel related."

Zink categorized the three new cases as belonging to two "older" individuals and one "younger" individual in their 20s but did not provide additional details regarding the individuals.

Zink urged Alaska residents to take suggestions of social distancing and self-isolation seriously in an effort to stem the rapid spread of the disease.

"This disease is incredibly sneaky. People who have very mild symptoms and who are younger can spread it to other people," she said. "And it's hard to know that you're sick. You may not be thinking that you're hurting anyone else. You may not know that you're spreading it... The more that we can distance ourselves is the way that we can protect ourselves at this time."

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