A third case of the novel coronavirus has been confirmed in Ketchikan, the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center announced in an email Friday afternoon.
The individual is an employee of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and was “a close contact” of Borough Attorney Glenn Brown, the first person in Ketchikan confirmed to have a positive result. The individual works at the White Cliff Building, which houses most of the borough offices.
One other new case was confirmed in Fairbanks on Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Alaska to 14.
Mandates affect Ketchikan, schools
Following the confirmation of the new cases Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued two health mandates to help curb the spread of the disease in the state.
One of the mandates places new restrictions on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the Fairbanks North Star Borough only.
The borough-specific mandate ends all operation of businesses, congregations or gatherings where individuals are within six feet of each other, including barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, day spas, tattoo parlors, body piercing locations and tanning facilities.
The mandate also forbids gatherings of more than 10 individuals; if gatherings do take place, individuals must be six feet away from each other.
The mandate will go into effect at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 21.
The governor’s second mandate closes all public and private schools in the state to students through May 1. Students are to receive instruction through “distance delivery methods,” according to the mandate, which also suspends all after-school activities during this time.
Earlier on Friday, the Ketchikan School District announced that a remote instruction plan for students was being developed.
According to the announcement, written by Superintendent Beth Lougee, students are to resume learning over the next two weeks through assigned optional, self-directed activities.
No teacher-directed instruction will take place for students over the next two weeks, Lougee wrote, but teachers will be available “to support students, to collect and grade previously assigned work, and will be reaching out to contact students and families.”
“We want to make sure that none of the activities/lessons provided these coming weeks have penalties attached to them,” the statement continues. “While teachers will be providing guidance and feedback on assignments given, students should not be penalized for non-participation or failure to complete tasks.”
It is unclear at time of publication what effect the governor’s mandate will have on district plans and operations.
In other developments Monday, the Dunleavy administration issued a health alert regarding travel, “strongly” advising that “all Alaskans cease non-essential out of state personal, business and medical travel now. ”
The alert stated that more than 80 % of proven COVID-19 cases in Alaska have come from out of state — mostly from the Lower 48.
The alert encouraged all Alaskans who are out of the state to return to Alaska now if they had plans to return to the state within the next 30 days.
Tourists and non-essential business travelers are advised to “return to their home communities now” — and “tour operators should immediately suspend reservations for any out of state visitors, according to the advisory.
As for people returning to Alaska from one of the “Level 3” areas, they are mandated to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Any other worker or Alaska resident is expected to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning to Alaska and monitor for illness.
“Any visitor to Alaska is expected to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Alaska, monitor for illness, and follow appropriate social distancing protocols while in Alaska,” according to the advisory.
The alert also addressed travel within Alaska, again “strongly” advising that all Alaskans and non-residents stop any non-essential, long-distance personal, business or medical travel because of a “heightened concern for travel to remote areas with limited medical resources.”
It also stated that tour operators that rely on clients traveling long distances across the state “should strongly consider suspending operations.”
The alert said that minimizing travel is an important part of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Countering the advance of COVID-19 by restrictions on air travel was the focus of a letter sent by Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Dial to Dunleavy on Friday.
Written on Ketchikan Gateway Borough letterhead, Dial’s letter thanked the governor for his “decisive response” to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.
Noting the three COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan, Dial said he was writing the letter in conjunction with the recommendation made by the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center.
Ketchikan International Airport is owned by the State of Alaska and managed by the borough. Dial wrote that the borough doesn;t have the authority to close the airport, or to establish procedures to address passenger screening.
“Therefore, I, along with the Ketchikan EOC, ask that you consider restricting non-essential air travel into isolated communities such as Ketchikan,” Dial wrote. “Additionally, that you provide guidance on COVID-19 screening of air travelers enplaning and deplaning throughout Alaska airports.”
DOT: Airports open
Dial’s letter was made public on Friday mid-afternoon. At 4:58 p.m., the Alaska Department of Transportation distributed an announcement by email, stating that “Alaska airports are open — precautions remain in place.”
The statement said the department has received inquiries about closing airports, and that it recognizes community concerns regarding the potential spread of COVID-19.
DOT also recognizes the need for continued community access across Alaska.
“At this time, all state-owned airports across Alaska will remain open and fully operational,” stated the DOT announcement. “Airports are a critical lifeline across Alaska and provide essential life, health, commerce and safety access.”
The agency is monitoring conditions and, “should situations warrant, will coordinate any requests to close an airport with the Federal Aviation Administration,” according to the DOT announcement. “As of today, the FAA is not ready to approve airport closures.”
The statement added that DOT “strictly adheres” to guidance established by the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, federal Centers for Disease Control and the FAA.
“Currently, passengers are asked to self-screen,” the DOT statement continued. “Some air carriers are doing limited screening, and Alaska Unified Command is working with individual air carriers to recommend expanded passenger screening.”
The statement also touched on the reduced number of air travelers in the state. DOT has received reports of 60% percent fewer passengers compared to the same time frame in 2019.
“This reduction in passengers requires airlines to make real-time adjustments to routes based on passenger numbers,” according to the DOT announcement, which concluded by encouraging travelers to regularly check flight schedules for changes.
Daily News staff writers Sam Stockbridge and Scott Bowlen contributed to this story.