The fourth Alaska case of COVID-19, the severe respiratory illness caused by novel coronavirus, was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon in Ketchikan.
Shortly after confirmation, at a state press briefing, two additional cases were confirmed — one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks, bringing the total statewide to six confirmed cases. All cases so far have been travel-related.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy's administration announced that effective March 18 at 5 p.m. there will be prohibitions statewide for dining in at all restaurants, bars, cafes, breweries and other establishments serving food or beverages. Affected businesses are encouraged to utilize drive-thru and delivery services.
"So once again, the cases will continue to grow," said Dunleavy at the evening press conference. "... I would ask the people of Alaska don't make a run to the store. But at the same time I ask the people of Alaska to also start to take this more seriously. Change your habits. Change your practices."
Dunleavy also announced a statewide economic recovery effort to be headed by former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.
In Ketchikan, the patient who tested positive is Ketchikan Gateway Borough Attorney Glenn Brown, 56, who returned from personal travel in Oregon and subsequently Juneau on March 9.
On Saturday, after noticing symptoms — "fever, headache, general achiness and chills" — he self-isolated himself, and got tested at PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center on Monday morning.
On Tuesday afternoon, state public health in Anchorage called and notified Brown of a positive result.
He said in an interview late Tuesday evening that he was on the telephone with public health staff for about an hour and a half recounting everyone he had interacted with and the places he went since March 6.
"I used everything from cell phone records to work calendars to debit cards bills, to recall everybody that I may have had contact with," he said. "I wanted to provide that information to public health, (so) that they could alert those people and really hope to kind of arrest this thing."
Brown said public health's principle focus was from two days before the onset of symptoms.
During that time, Brown said, as a function of his job and the borough's preparation for an emergency declaration, as well as its response to statewide and national emergency, he was working closely with borough staff and upper management.
Following the positive test result, Brown has continued self-isolation at home, and reported that symptoms have subsided. He was last at the borough's White Cliff building Friday.
In a statement Tuesday night on his personal social media page, he said, "I apologize for causing undue concern for anyone, especially my co-workers at the borough. They are a great team of people, committed to serving the public the best way possible."
Kacie Paxton, local public information officer for Ketchikan’s emergency operations center and borough clerk, said public health will be contacting those individuals with direct contact to the patient.
"So all of the tenants and staff in the White Cliff building will be finishing up their work today and going home," said Paxton. "Anyone who's been in contact with the employee who tested positive will be self-isolating until April 1st."
Paxton was one of those employees. The number of people at the borough affected was unavailable at press time.
As of Tuesday night, there were no plans to test those individuals who had direct contact with Brown.
"At this time it is my understanding that for testing you would need to have several of the symptoms," said Paxton. " ... self-isolating is the recommendation."
She said the borough had identified employees that could work from home well over a week ago and so some have already been doing so — or been prepared to do so.
"Although this was news about the first positive case," said Paxton, "it is what we have all been preparing for."
The White Cliff building will be closed until further notice. A commercial disinfected service has been contracted to clean the interior of the building as well as areas outside the building, according to a borough press release.
As far as the next steps for the Ketchikan EOC, Paxton said those are currently being worked on.
"We are having daily meetings, multiple meetings each day between the EOC, the command unit, the operational team, the PIO team," said Paxton. "So it has become the focus, and we are responding to the needs as they arise. Hour by hour, minute by minute."
In a statement Brown made through his social media account, which was also reiterated in the interview Tuesday, he asked people to watch for early onset symptoms and to isolate themselves if those symptoms arise.
"I would also ask that you join me and all of Ketchikan to actively minimize community transmissions," said Brown, "so that we can protect our seniors and other medically vulnerable folks in Ketchikan."