Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Coronavirus testing increases in Alaska, no confirmed cases yet

There are still no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Alaska, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy who met with state health officials and reporters Monday morning. But the state is ramping up its testing as cases increase around the world.

“We have seen a steady increase in testing even over the weekend,” said State Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink. “We should expect more cases. We don’t have any right now but we should expect more.”

As of Monday morning, 23 people in Alaska had been tested, all of which came back negative, she said. Zink noted the state has been working to remain proactive — acting as if the state does have cases so as to maintain and improve aggressive mitigation efforts and testing practices.

“Our elderly populations are at risk right now,” Zink said, noting the majority of cases around the world have occurred in individuals with underlying health complications such as lung or heart disease as well as those over 60. “Children and young people are really low risk.”

As far as funding for mitigation and testing efforts, Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum announced Monday morning the state has received $4.5 million from the Centers for Disease Control to kick off statewide mitigation efforts.

The federal government has approved a supplemental funding package of $8.3 billion to address the crisis nationwide. Crum said he doesn’t know how much of that funding Alaska will receive. Of the $8.3 billion, $950 million has been designated for state and local health departments. Crum added that he is working to figure out when those funds will be coming to Alaska.

As part of the larger supplemental funding, $100 million is tagged specifically for underserved areas of the country. Crum said he will be looking into that funding and making sure rural Alaska is getting support.

Dunleavy announced last week that he has requested $4 million in state supplemental funding as well as $9 million in federal funding receipts from the Legislature. The supplemental request is currently being worked through the Legislature, he said Monday.

One of the central drivers in the supplemental request was the need for more state public health nurses, Dunleavy said in announcing the request last week.

Crum said the hiring of additional personnel is already underway.

“We’ve been working towards hiring those individuals,” he said, adding that once hired they will be flying out to rural communities to begin support and education efforts.

The state has been putting into place some additional protocols when it comes to state assisted living facilities and Pioneers’ Homes, which house the elderly. Right now there is not a hard and fast crackdown on visitors but anyone who is sick or experiencing health complications is advised not to visit the facilities and to communicate with individuals whom they were hoping to visit over the phone.

“We will advise that people use audio as much as possible to communicate,” Dunleavy said.

Following his press conference Monday morning, the governor officially “suspended” indefinitely his next three public town hall events that were scheduled to take place this week in Homer, Seward and Kenai. A number of previous town halls have been canceled due to weather.

According to the World Health Organization, as of Sunday more than 100 countries have confirmed lab-tested cases of COVID-19. There are 105,586 confirmed cases worldwide, WHO announced. This includes more than 3,500 deaths. The majority of cases and related deaths have occurred in China — with 24,727 cases and 484 deaths outside of China.

The United States has confirmed a total of 213 cases and 11 deaths as of Sunday.

Along with pushing for additional funding for statewide mitigation efforts, Alaska Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young have launched information pages on the novel coronavirus in an effort to keep constituents informed.

The most reliable sources to gain information from remain the World Health Organization — which posts daily global situation reports — and the United States Centers for Disease Control.

By:  Erin McGroarty
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner