No new positive test results for COVID-19 were recorded statewide on Wednesday, and no new positives were reported in Ketchikan.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported that Alaska’s total case count remained at 402 as of midnight Wednesday. Forty-six individuals have active cases, while 356 individuals are listed as having recovered.
A total of 39,545 tests had been administered statewide, according to DHSS.
The Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center reported that 1,080 tests had been administered in Ketchikan as of 5 p.m. Thursday. Results from 169 tests were pending. The local total case count remains at 16, with 15 individuals listed as recovered.
The EOC indicates that drive-up testing will be available on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
On Thursday evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum held a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday evening, responding to a wide range of questions from around Alaska.
One question focused on the current 14-day quarantine mandate for travelers arriving in Alaska from Outside, which is scheduled to remain in effect through June 2.
Crum said that there’s wide agreement within the health community that the 14-day quarantine is “our single biggest factor for keeping the virus out of the state.”
Like Hawaii, Alaska has used its geographic distance from the rest of the country to its benefit in decreasing the possible vectors for COVID-19 to enter the state.
“That has really contributed toward our low numbers,” Crum said, noting that most new cases are travel-related.
Alaska is trying to find a middle ground strategy to be able to reduce the quarantine window, and the mandate is being reevaluated each day, he said.
However, the quarantines for the critical infrastructure workers coming into Alaska are probably going to remain in place, Crum said.
“We’re going to make sure that we protect our communities in that way,” he said.
Dunleavy added that the White House is keeping its travel bans on non-essential travel, especially from other countries and overseas. In addition, Mexico, the United states and Canada just reaffirmed policies regarding cross-border travel.
“There's a belief that, obviously, mixing of populations — especially those where infections are located — will add to the infections of the place that folks are going to,” Dunleavy said.
He said Alaska is working with the FAA, airlines and airports to come up with an approach for screening travelers to minimize the number of individuals coming into Alaska with COVID-19. He said he hopes to have further information about whether any changes to the quarantine and when available early next week.
In response to a question about whether there might be flexibility in the ongoing restrictions related to residents and patients of Pioneer Homes, long-term care units and other senior care facilities — especially in places like Ketchikan that haven’t had a positive test result for more than four weeks, Dunleavy and Crum acknowledged that it’s a difficult issue.
At present, residents and patients in such facilties are unable to have family or other visitors, in addition to other restrictions
Dunleavy said the state is being very careful because COVID-19 hits older people and individuals with health issues very hard, citing the issues experienced in Seattle-area elder care homes early in the pandemic.
There are ethical considerations involved, he said.
“You have a congregate home where you have folks that are in the care of staff and in many cases, the state,” Dunleavy said. “And so decisions have to be made, really, for the group and not just for the individual.
“ ... If there's a senior, an elder that is living by themselves, they can make that choice whether they want to receive visitors,” Dunleavy continued. “There's a risk obviously, but there's some ethical considerations that we have to work through, along with the protocols that (Crum) is talking about.”
Crum said that the state is really trying to protect a high-risk population, but also wants to make sure that there is quality of life.
He said the federal Centers for Disease Control recently released some updated guidance that the state could use with nursing care facilities to allow individuals some limited visitation and increased activity levels.
Crum added that the state met with the Alaska Commission on Aging earlier this week, and the subject is “a very big concern for all of the commissioners on that board.”
There is an effort with the Pioneer Homes to ensure wifi access so that Skype, Facetime and other videoconferencing tools can be used for communications between residents and their loved ones, said Crum. The state also is working on staff testing strategies and visitor screening procedures.
“So we're trying to work on a comprehensive plan that we can adjust this,” Crum said, adding later that “it is something we're very mindful of. We want to make sure we do it correctly and deliberately.”
The next virtual town hall event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 26.