Anchorage cargo flights continue as coronavirus cases rise

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - At least 14 reported cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the U.S., with the patient currently being treated in San Diego after being evacuated from Wuhan, China - the city in which some 60,000 people are reported infected - according to NBC News.

Additionally, another 44 people have tested positive for the virus aboard a quarantined cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

This begs the question: While passenger flights from China through Alaska and nearly every other domestic airport have been halted, why isn't there a hold on cargo planes? State lawmakers were briefed Wednesday on that decision as well as what's being done to protect Alaskans.

"We are incredibly busy with cargo," said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services' Chief Medical Officer. "Passengers are going through five American airports. Anchorage is not one of them, Seattle is one."

As reports of more people infected with coronavirus come in, airports throughout the U.S. have beefed up screening, but even with certain airlines - such as Delta and British Airways - stopping cargo service to the country, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is still seeing multiple weekly cargo flights directly from China.

"We've been getting a lot of questions and concerns," Zink said, "but crew members from cargo flights are thought to be lower risk because they are separated and in isolation, and not interacting with passengers so much."

In the Senate hearing Wednesday, Zink also said that if cargo shipments from China were to be halted, there may be more risks to the American Health System.

"Eighty to ninety percent of medical supplies come from China," she said, "so a stop could have larger health impacts. But we have seen big changes in travel as the world has continued to try and address this epidemic."

In Unalaska, the port there welcomed a cargo ship with 23 members on board, as reported by KUBC. They were not allowed to leave the vessel while it's in port and conduction cargo operations due to the federal 14-day quarantine order that is now in place in the U.S. and applies to vessels and anyone traveling from China.

The hope is the combination of precautions, treatments and changes will prevent the spread of the virus.

"As Dr. Jay Butler said, we really have four epidemics," Zink said. "There's the coronavirus, but also the fear, the stigma, and the misinformation, so this is important."

DHSS' Communications Director Clinton Bennett said in an emailed statement Wednesday that the department "has not heard anything about cargo flights being stopped from coming into Anchorage or anywhere else in the United States."

U.S. residents, legal permanent residents, and aircrew have thus far been allowed to travel unrestricted.

The Centers for Disease Control says some of the best ways to prevent the spread of the now-deadly coronavirus include washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding sharing personal and household items, and staying home if you are sick. Call a doctor if you are in need of professional medical advice or suspect you may be infected.

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