Over a dozen people cite Palmer banquet attended by governor, lawmakers as possible source of COVID-19 infection

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who later tested positive for COVID-19, attended a banquet in Palmer last month that more than a dozen people later identified as a possible source of infection. (Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

At least 15 people listed a banquet attended by Alaska’s governor and multiple state legislators last month as a possible source of their COVID-19 infection, a state health department spokesman said.

The Alaska Outdoor Council banquet on Feb. 20 in Palmer was attended by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok. Both tested positive for COVID-19 days later, on Feb. 24, though it’s not clear whether either of them became infected at the event.

At least five other state legislators and Anchorage mayoral candidate Bill Evans were also in attendance.

“As commonly occurs with COVID-19 outbreaks linked to a single venue, when it became known that multiple people who attended the banquet had tested positive, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services personnel alerted Alaska Outdoor Council leadership,” Clinton Bennett, a spokesman for the state health department, wrote in an email Saturday.

The banquet took place in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which as of Friday was the region of Alaska with the highest average case rate over the last two weeks. Pictures showed many attendees without masks.

Bennett said that event organizers decided to send out a letter encouraging those who attended the banquet get tested and monitor for potential COVID-19 symptoms.

While no one who was interviewed during the contact tracing process reported experiencing symptoms of the virus at the event, at least 15 people said the banquet might have been a source of their COVID-19 infection, Bennett said.

“Based on contact tracing interviews, we have not identified a single source for all the infections, indicating that multiple attendees may have been infectious during the event,” Bennett wrote.

Dunleavy told Alaska Public Media that he was feeling better after his infection and said that he caught the virus from someone he knows, the outlet reported Friday.

Related: GOP Gov. Dunleavy says he’s recovered from COVID-19, and nudges Alaskans on vaccines

Before he tested positive, Dunleavy was notified that he’d had close contact on Feb. 20 with someone who was infected, and the governor subsequently quarantined.

In addition to the governor and Cronk, five state legislators attended the banquet: Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; and Josh Revak, R-Anchorage; and Reps. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake; and Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.

Asked whether the governor was infected with COVID, the governor’s office deferred questions to the Department of Health and Social Services.

“Close contact information for any case is not released to the public, unless previously unidentified potential close contacts need to be identified as part of an investigation,” Bennett said.

Hughes said she had not seen the letter sent by the Outdoor Council, and an aide to Revak said he also had not seen it. Micciche did not respond to a question asked via a spokesman.

Through a spokesman, the three House members said they did not have any new comments.

Cronk returned to the Capitol on Monday and in a Facebook post said he was ill for about six days after testing positive.

The Alaska Outdoor Council’s executive director, Caleb Martin, previously said he contacted the governor’s office and was told that the close contact did not take place during the banquet.

Representatives from the Alaska Outdoor Council did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

State public health officials continue to recommend that Alaskans avoid indoor gatherings with non-household members, avoid crowds, wear masks when around non-household members and stay 6 feet away from anyone not in their household.

Reporter James Brooks contributed to this report from Juneau.

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