3 Alaskans tested so far for coronavirus; state officials urge precautions

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink speaking at a press conference in Anchorage about the flight carrying 201 passengers from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, that landed in Anchorage on January 29. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska has begun testing for coronavirus within the state. And there have been no reported cases so far.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Monday, March 2, in Anchorage that he will ask the Legislature for at least $4 million for public health nurses focused on coronavirus, as well as for expenses related to testing for the virus. The administration also is seeking legislative approval to accept $9 million in federal money.

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“We want to make sure that we have protocols in place that once this virus arrives — and we think it probably will, just because of the way it’s spreading — that we’re prepared for it,” Dunleavy said.

He added that, “from a 30,00-foot level, we’re feeling pretty good about where we’re at and how things are going.”

The state began testing on Thursday, Feb. 27. That’s also the day the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadened its definition of who should be tested.

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There have been three people tested in Alaska as of Monday morning, according to Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. Two tested negative. One person’s case was still under investigation on Monday, since the state was waiting for the person’s sample to reach a testing facility.  It takes approximately four hours to get the results from a test.

Zink said Alaskans should be prepared to stay at home for two weeks — with enough food and medicine — if public health authorities determine they’re at risk of having been exposed to the virus. She emphasizes the importance of healthy practices like washing your hands and staying home with any sickness.

Read our continuing coverage of coronavirus in Alaska.

“What do you do if you get the sniffles?” she said. “You do the normal stuff that you should be doing, which is taking care of yourself. And that’s eating fresh fruits and vegetables, that’s getting outside and getting fresh air; that’s getting plenty of rest; that’s drinking plenty of water. That’s staying home if you’re sick; that’s not getting other people sick.”

Zink also said it’s not too late to get a flu shot. She said preventing flu cases could reduce the strain on the healthcare system from coronavirus.

The state has operated an emergency response center for coronavirus for five weeks. Dunleavy said the administration will begin giving legislators frequent coronavirus updates.

Zink says the state Department of Health and Social Services and CDC websites are good sources for coronavirus updates. And state public health nurses will be visiting communities to help them prepare for the virus.

This story has been updated to clarify that of the three people tested, two tested negative for the virus and one test was still pending Monday.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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