Ketchikan had two of the 16 new positive test results for COVID-19 reported in Alaska on Wednesday as the state’s overall case count increased to 59.
As of Wednesday evening, 11 cases have been reported in Ketchikan since March 17.
The other new cases announced Wednesday by Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink included 11 in the Anchorage area, and one each in Homer, Fairbanks and North Pole.
According to state information received by the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center, the individuals involved in the Ketchikan cases announced Wednesday did not have a history of travel.
“Both individuals had been in close contact to persons who were previously reported as testing positive to COVID-19,” stated an EOC announcement issued Wednesday afternoon. “These two individuals were identified through the contact investigation by Public Health, were placed into self-quarantine, and were tested for COVID-19 at the direction of Public Health.”
The two individuals were in self-isolation, according to the announcement.
Dr. Zink announced the updated statewide total during a 1.5 hour press conference attended by Gov. Mike Dunleavy; Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases with the federal Centers for Disease Control; Dr, Robert Onders of the Alaska Native Health Consortium and others.
The emphasis was on encouraging Alaskans to do the social distancing and other measures necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 enough that the state can build its health care capacity up to handle the cases that do occur.
Butler noted that the novel coronavirus didn’t exist three months ago, it’s “very contagious,” and that there’s been a lot to learn.
A variety of drugs are being studied or have been studied, and a vaccine would be “farther down the road.”
Now that the virus is in Alaska, the aim now is to slow the rate of transmission within the community.
There was much discussion about the ways the state was organizing to combat the virus spread, ranging from state advisories and mandates to efforts to communicate and coordinate among the various types and capabilities of health care providers in Alaska.
There’s an ongoing effort to inventory medical supplies around the state. One of the shortages noted to date is the swabs used to collect the specimens for testing.
“Our big limitation has been the swabs,” Zink said, adding that the state had received 4,000 on Wednesday, and that there was some swab-manufacturing effort starting within the state itself.
Although Alaska does have an advantage in being about a week behind the Lower 48 in terms of the stage of the coronavirus’ spread, the task of organizing a response — both proactive and reactive, continues to be daunting.
“I kind of feel like were building a spaceship while we’re tying to fly it at the same time,” Zink said.
Dunleavy spoke of “threading the needle” in working to address the imminent health issues and being aware of the economic issues that are developing, as well.
He stressed that people should adhere to the recommendations and mandates intended to help slow the spread, acknowledging that the recommended behaviors change the way people have interacted for generations.
“This only works if we cooperate,” he said.