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 7:38 p.m.: Two additional cases of COVID-19 were announced Friday evening by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state health officials, one in Fairbanks and one in Ketchikan.

The state also issued two new health mandates beginning Saturday, closing all public and private schools through May 1 and banning any gatherings of more than 10 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough until further notice. If a gathering is to take place, individuals must be able to maintain 6 feet of distance.

"These two communities are the communities we're most concerned about at this time," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.

The two most recently reported cases in Fairbanks have not officially been categorized as community cases –– the state is still tracking movement and contacts of the cases, but Zink noted the underlying questions regarding the Fairbanks cases is part of the reason for the gathering-related mandate.

"We are concerned about community spread within Fairbanks, although we haven't ruled out 'contact-associated' [spread] at this time," Zink said.

Six of the 14 cases announced by the state are from Fairbanks.

The first three of the Fairbanks cases are considered travel-related; the fourth and fifth cases were not classified when Zink announced them Thursday. She said at the time that those two individuals had not traveled outside Alaska in the past two weeks but that that doesn't mean the cases automatically count as "community spread."

The new case in Ketchikan –– bringing that community's total to three –– is categorized as travel-related and is a positive test from a middle-aged individual.

Zink noted that the state is suffering a shortage of swabs associated with the test for COVID-19, urging Alaskans to take seriously any advice from health officials regarding the virus.

"The more we do now, the more we flatten the curve and really it's critical," Zink said.

Dunleavy noted that he has not yet come to the point where a community closure or "shelter in place" mandate is necessary but that nothing is ruled out in the future.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued an emergency order for that city's residents to stay at home "as much as possible, except to work in certain critical jobs.."

The second state mandate announced by Dunleavy orders the suspension of services at businesses where individuals are in close contact such as hair salons, spas, nail salons, barbershops, tattoo shops, piercing shops, massage therapy businesses and tanning salons.

Zink urged young adults to pay attention to requests for social distancing, noting that younger individuals are less likely to be impacted by the virus but could easily spread it to more vulnerable people. Additionally, Alaska is experiencing a shortage of blood, Zink added, and anyone who is able to donate blood is encouraged to do so.

In conjunction with the governor's announcement, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued two health advisories Friday afternoon, urging all Alaskans to avoid any non-essential travel out of the state until further notice to help avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, the state Department of Health and Social Services strongly advises all Alaskans to cease any non-essential long distance travel within the state as well.

Alaskans currently out of state are also encouraged "to return home now" if they had plans to return in the next 30 days. Tourists planning to travel to Alaska are advised to cancel their trips, and those tourists currently in Alaska are advised to return to their home communities as soon as possible.

"The state of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services acknowledge the importance of suspending all non-essential travel across the Alaska border as well as minimizing intrastate travel to avoid introducing new COVID-19 cases into Alaska from out of state and slow the spread of the virus in state," the advisory reads.

All airports, ports and bus terminals are required to post the health advisors at stations.

"We expect any traveler who leaves a community with known cases of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to their destination community and monitor for symptoms of illness. Following that period, appropriate social distancing should be followed," the advisory notes.

The advisories do not apply to medical, personal or business emergencies.

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