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 7:29 p.m.: A fourth staff member at Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Anchorage office has tested positive for COVID-19. 

The staff member’s test results were confirmed Saturday, according to Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner. 

Three other staff members have tested positive earlier this month. All four are self-isolating and are “doing well,” Turner said in an email to the Daily News-Miner. 

The governor is routinely tested, Turner noted. The last test administered to the governor came back negative, he said, but would not clarify when that test was administered. 

One new death has been added to the state’s total today. The deceased was an Anchorage man in his 60s, according to the state.

State health officials reported 204 new cases of the disease among state residents today, four of whom are from the Fairbanks North Star Borough — two from Fairbanks, one from North Pole and one from elsewhere in the borough.

The majority of Wednesday’s new resident cases were confirmed in 133 Anchorage residents. The rest were scattered across the state.  

A total of 11,605 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-March when cases were first discovered in the state and health officials have confirmed there is increased community transmission across much of the state. 

In his first meeting with the press since the beginning of September, Dunleavy assured Alaskans that they should be “optimistic” at how the state is managing the virus. He also maintained that the death rates and hospitalizations related to the virus are falling. 

Hospitalizations rose sharply at the beginning of July, remained steady and fell again in September and then increased again at the beginning of October. Nine more hospitalizations were reported today, marking the highest daily number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began in mid-March, according to data kept by the state health department. 

There are currently 41 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in hospitals statewide. Eight of these patients are on ventilators.

Hospital officials shared concerns with the House Health and Social Services Committee earlier this week about the potential for vast community spread to translate into increased strain of the state’s healthcare infrastructure.

Jared Kosin, the president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said hospitals are bracing.

“We don’t think the wave has fully hit our doors yet, so we expect hospitalizations to increase into the foreseeable future,” he said.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, a physician and infectious disease epidemiologist with the University of Alaska Anchorage, called the recent increase in COVID-19 cases “concerning.”

“(They) could pose a threat to our healthcare system if rates increase further. The current rate of transmission could be reversed if Alaskans increased our use of facial masks, maintained physical distancing, avoided closed indoor spaces and increased handwashing. Public messages and/or public policies that promoted these basic steps could reverse the current upward trend and save lives,” Hennessy said.

Medical overflow spaces including the Carlson Center in Fairbanks remain on standby in case of an overflow of cases, state health officials said Wednesday.

A total of 547,140 tests have been conducted statewide to date, with 12,149 tests conducted in the previous seven days. The average percentage of daily positive tests for the last week is 4.61%. The Fairbanks North Star Borough’s 7-day test positivity percentage is 7.1% which is much lower than where the borough was at last week with an 11% test positive percentage.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink noted Wednesday evening that Fairbanks’ test positivity rate has fallen over the last week which signaled a positive direction for the borough.

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