News-Miner opinion: News that Alaska has its first confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It was just a matter of time given the spread of the virus and the interconnected world we now live in.
Somewhat reassuring is that this first case was not of an Alaska resident, who could have easily and unknowingly spread the virus to others, but was instead of an individual on a cargo aircraft that arrived at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Wednesday. The individual, according to state officials, is a foreign national who developed a fever and respiratory symptoms shortly after arriving in Anchorage. The person, an adult male, immediately sought medical attention and then went to Alaska Regional Hospital for testing.
Fortunately, this patient acted responsibly. He told state epidemiologists he had had “very limited contact with others, stayed isolated since symptoms started yesterday, and followed the appropriate recommendations,” according to a statement from the office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Had the person not cared or been aboard a passenger aircraft, developed symptoms after leaving the aircraft, and interacted with many other people, Alaska might have faced a far more serious situation.
So this one incident needs to be kept in context. Alaskans can only keep such an incidence in context, however, if they have sufficient and accurate information about it.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his team have provided that to Alaskans. Information has been forthcoming and timely.
The cargo flight arrived in Anchorage on Wednesday, and the governor at 5 p.m. Thursday held a news conference with Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink to announce the case. At 9:30 p.m., the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, which operates the airports, provided the additional information that the infected person was aboard a cargo flight, that cargo flights arrive at location different from where passenger flights arrive, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not consider cargo to be a coronavirus health risk.
That information is important to the understanding of this one case.
As the outbreak continues around the nation, and perhaps — though we hope not — leads to more cases in Alaska, having regular updates from the governor and his team is vital. Alaskans will need frank and accurate assessments.
Gov. Dunleavy, in a written statement issued in conjunction with his Thursday news conference, had this to say:
“Again, there is no reason to panic, no reason to get upset. We expect to have more cases as time goes on and Alaska is as prepared as any other state to take on this issue.”
That is good advice.
As this coronavirus outbreak unfolds, listen to the health experts, heed their advice about washing hands often, engaging in social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
You can find plenty of information about coronavirus on the state Department of Health and Social Services website: dhss.alaska.gov.