Alaska’s request for medical supplies from the feds fell short, now it’s on the hunt for more as COVID-19 cases grow

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy speak at a news conference on Monday, April, 6, 2020. (Governor’s office photo)

Alaska’s state government hasn’t received all of the medical supplies from the federal government that it has asked for, so it’s turning to sources both inside the state and around the world as the number of coronavirus cases grows.

The state requested more than 3 million N-95 masks from the federal government, and has received 165,000. It asked for 1 million medical gowns and received 9,400, state officials said on Wednesday. It also has shortages of face shields, gloves and surgical masks.

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said at Wednesday’s news conference that global shortages persist. 

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“We’re working with manufacturers in the state as well as federal and local and international partners to try to obtain more personal protective gear and, really, more testing so that we can make sure that people are being screened, quarantined, tested appropriately,” she said.

Meanwhile, the number of Alaskans diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to steadily grow, and a seventh Alaskan has died.

An Anchorage woman in her 40s died on Tuesday after she was diagnosed with the disease, Zink said. Health officials believe the woman became sick in Anchorage. She was admitted to a local hospital on Sunday.

“Our love and condolences go out to their family,” Zink said. 

By the end of the day Tuesday, 13 more Alaskans were diagnosed with COIVD-19, bringing the total to 226. Four more Alaskans have been hospitalized, and at least 32 have recovered from the disease, the state reported.

The state records the cases based on Alaskans’ place of residency. Of the 13 new cases, six are from Anchorage, six are from Fairbanks and one is from Palmer.

Screenshot of Alaska COVID-19 data from the state health department on Wednesday, March 8, 2020.

More than 7,000 tests have been conducted in Alaska.

View the state’s coronavirus data here.

Zink said Alaska has all of the Abbott kits it has asked for, which provide rapid testing for the virus, as well as all of the ventilators it requested. 

She said the shortage of personal protective equipment has led public health experts to think creatively about how to meet the state’s needs. 

“I feel like I’m becoming a manufacturing supply chain expert, trying to figure out how we get supplies from one place to another and how do we develop it and how much lag time those things need and how much raw materials,” Zink said.

Get the latest coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska here.

She said the coronavirus may be present in many communities that haven’t had confirmed cases yet.

“I think we all need to assume at this time that this is amongst our communities for the most part,” she said.

Zink said the state is working to increase its testing capacity. The percent of tests that are coming back positive is increasing, she said, and the state would like to be doing enough testing to have that number drop instead. 

The state also broadened its guidelines for who can be tested, adding people who live with health care workers and patients at health care facilities, among others. 

Related: Testing ramps up in rural Alaska, but is it enough?

The guidelines previously said that those at increased risk for serious illness could have tests sent to out-of-state commercial labs. Also, people working in critical infrastructure jobs like in grocery stores have been added to those who could have tests sent to out-of-state labs. 

People who don’t have symptoms are still not eligible for testing under the guidelines, though providers can use their discretion. 

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon contributed to this report.

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