Alaska officials say they’ve confirmed the state’s first coronavirus case.
“Again, no reason to panic, no reason to get upset. We’re going to have more cases as time goes on,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a Thursday evening press conference.
The patient arrived on a cargo flight operated by a private company, the governor’s office said. Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, described the patient as an adult man who is a “foreign national.” She said he was “transiting through Alaska.”
Zink called it an isolated case that health officials believe they can contain.
“It does not possess the same threat or risk to Alaska as if this was a community-acquired case,” she said.
The case was identified Thursday. It’s a “presumptive positive,” she said, meaning that the lab case will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.
The man knew about the virus and called a health care provider when he noticed symptoms, Zink said.
“This is not someone who’s been wandering through the community. This is not someone who’s been shopping at the mall,” she said. “This is not someone who’s going out to eat. This is someone who very quickly isolated themselves and identified themselves.”
He went to the emergency room at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, which had prepared for his arrival, Zink said.
“He knew about the virus that causes COVID-19,” she said. “He was monitoring himself, and as soon as he developed any symptoms that could be potentially consistent with it, this individual protected themself, called ahead and was able to be seen and assessed.”
His condition, as of Thursday, was not life-threatening. He’s still in Anchorage and in isolation, health officials said.
Zink declined to give his age or provide other details. She said she wanted to protect his privacy. She described him as kind and cooperative, and said he had traveled “quite a bit internationally” before arriving in Anchorage about 48 hours prior.
“My heart goes out to this individual as they are suddenly here and getting this information, far away from loved ones and family. And so we’re working closely to make sure they are supported,” she said.
Earlier this week, Zink had warned that the first cases of the disease were likely to appear in the state soon, given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world.
The state has been posting the number of tests daily. As of Thursday afternoon, 59 patients had been tested.
Across Alaska, coronavirus concerns have canceled events, suspended travel and disrupted the economy. The Anchorage School District announced Thursday that all of its schools will remain closed for at least a week after spring break. The University of Alaska system is extending spring break, moving most classes online, canceling events and asking students to leave on-campus dorms.
Across the country, there were more than 1,200 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, by Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-one deaths and more than 450 cases were reported in Washington state, and almost all were in the greater Seattle area, which is a hub for travelers flying to and from Alaska.
The CDC says the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is still thought to be low for most of the American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to the coronavirus. People in communities where the virus is spreading face elevated risk, depending on their location, the CDC says.
Serious illness appears to occur in about 15% of cases, the CDC says, citing a report from China, where the coronavirus originated. The agency recommends that people get the flu vaccine and take everyday steps to prevent the spread of germs: avoiding close contact with sick people, staying at home when sick and washing hands or using hand sanitizer.
If you’ve been in an area where COVID-19 is spreading or in close contact with a person known to have the disease, and you develop a fever and a cough or difficulty breathing, the CDC says to call ahead before seeing a medical professional.
Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon, Nathaniel Herz and Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.