More Alaskans have recovered from COVID-19 than are currently sick with it, but what does that mean?

A cot inside of the Rainforest Recovery Center on April 7, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. City officials converted the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center into an emergency spillover shelter for COVID-19 patients at Bartlett Regional Hospital. The shelter is designed to house patients who don’t need critical medical care. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

More than 60% of Alaskans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered.  

But the state’s data shows that recovering from the virus can take anywhere from four days to more than a month. 

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The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said there are a couple of explanations for the wide range of times that it takes to get over the virus. One, is when a person gets tested.

“Sometimes we see people at the end of their disease, or they’ve been sick for awhile,” Zink said during a Wednesday evening press conference. “That’s when they get tested. That’s what you see in the data by somebody may be diagnosed one day and then five days, six days later they’re cleared.”

Another reason recovery times are so different is that there are two ways that doctors in Alaska decide that someone has officially recovered. 

The state follows guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine when someone is no longer infectious. There’s clinical recovery and test-based recovery.

To be clinically declared disease-free — a patient has to be a week from their onset date. That onset date is not necessarily the same as the day a person tests positive for the virus. It’s the date the state determines is when they most likely got sick with the virus. 

So, one week from the onset date — and then 72 hours without symptoms. 

“So if you meet both of those criteria, then you’re clinically clear and recovered,” Zink said.

But, you can also be declared COVID-19 free through testing.  Zink said that takes two separate nasal swabs to see if someone still has the virus. 

“Then, if someone has cleared twice with two negatives that are split 24-hours apart, that’s another way to clear someone,” she said.

So technically, someone can test positive for the virus, then test negative twice in a day and be cleared rapidly. 

On average, it has taken Alaskans a little over two weeks to recover from COVID-19.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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