COVID-19: Alaskans have questions. We have answers.

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — As the COVID-19 epidemic that started in Wuhan, China spread into a global pandemic, with confirmed cases now present in Alaska, you've sent us questions, and we're tracking down the answers. This page will update with new questions and answers on a rolling basis. Stay healthy. Stay informed. Keep the questions coming!

Question: I know someone who isn't following the Governor's mandates. What can I do?

Answer: Complaints may be filed by email. But the state isn't keen on enforcement, at least not yet.
There are significant civil and potentially criminal penalties for individuals and businesses who choose to ignore the state's travel and hunker-down mandates aimed at "flattening the curve." The curve is a reference to the visual representation of the projected surge in COVID-19 cases and hospital stays that rises sharp and swift if mitigation measures, like social distancing, are not employed. The governor has repeatedly said he expects Alaskans to police themselves, and that the state will intervene early with persuasive conversations in lieu of penalties when it becomes aware of problems. However, because of the seriousness and quick spread of the illness, the state has made clear that ignoring the prevention mandates could be considered reckless endagerment, a criminal offense. Concerned citizens are asked to refrain from calling 9-1-1 and to instead email complaints to investigations@alaska.gov.

Question: I live in a small community. Can I drive to a bigger community to get groceries?

Answer: Yes, but with prudence.
The state expects individuals to get "critical personal needs" met at the closest location possible, according to Jeremy Zidek with Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. If you can buy what you need at a small gas station or town store, you're expected to do it. But if you need items the store doesn't have, it's permissable to travel to a store that does, he said. People are asked to limit who goes with them and to follow social distancing guidelines while traveling and shopping.

Question: I have a family member who needs to travel home from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Are they allowed to get a ride home? Can someone meet us halfway?

Answer: Yes.
Law enforcement is not enforcing the interstate travel mandates, according to Jeremy Zidek with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emegency Management. Getting home is a permissable activity, Zidek said, and would fall under the exemption to be out attending to critical personal needs.

Question: I live in Seward and am worried about people traveling here for an easy getaway. Can we establish a road block?

Answer: In theory, yes, but it might be difficult to enforce.
Small communities with a population less than 3,000 people are allowed to implement additional travel restrcitions, according to Jeremy Zidek with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. However, this allowance is primarily intended for communities that are not on the road system and which lack immediate access to large health care facilities, Zidek said. The state is also not presently enforcing road system travel, and the route to Seward is via a state highway.

Question: I see people recreating who are not maintaining a six foot distance from each other. What can I do?

Answer: Not much.
During his regularly scheduled daily press availability on March 31, Governor Dunleavy said law enforcement would not respond to a call to go track down people seen too close to each other. While the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread in Alaska is worrisome, law enforcement personnel continue to be needed for the everday policing they did prior to the pandemic, he said. The governor has said he expects people to use common sense and to not put themselves or others in harm's way.

Question: When will schools resume?

Answer: Anchorage public schools will resume March 31st. But only online.
Some private schools, including Pacific Northern Academy, have already moved their classes online. The Anchorage School District told KTUU it is "on track to begin rolling out distance learning options on March 31. Teachers continue working on their lesson plans this week and will begin distance learning in earnest next week." High School electives are due to begin April 13th. For other grade levels, the district said it wants "to give our students some time to get used to the online platforms and the new process before offering elective courses." The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has said it will start distance learning beginning Monday, March 30.

Question: How will students catch up?

Answer: Educators are still working this out.
From Alan Brown, Director of Communications for the Anchorage School District: " It’s too early to tell whether or not we will have to extend the school year. Right now our focus is on getting students back to learning with their teachers via remote methods. We are committed to increasing summer school opportunities as needed to ensure our high school seniors can get the credits they need for graduation."

Question: Is it safe to handle money?

Answer: Yes, with one exception.
COVID-19 is not thought to live long on cardboard and paper. For this reason, money handling is generally considered safe, according to Alaska State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin. The exception would be if someone who is obviously sick handles the money and gives it to you, or if you see them cough or sneeze on the money before handing it to you. In such instances, it would still take you touching the money almost immediately, then touching your face, nose, eyes or mouth to have a risk of infection. McLaughlin said in such a scenario - common sense prevails: wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as you can after the transaction.

Question: Is it safe to handle mail and packages?

Answer: It is considered low-risk.
Experts, including the CDC and Alaska State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin, say the likelihood of the virus infecting someone who handled a contaminated package or mail is low. There are no known cases where this has happened. It's also believed the virus does not live long on cardboard and paper. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus lives about 24 hours on cardboard. Additinionally, the main kown source of spread is via close contact to someone who has the virus, through nasal discharge, saliva, coughs and sneezes. Frequent handwashing and social distancing are considered the best defense against transer of the virus.

Question: Who do I tell if I'm aware of a person or business who is not following the state's mandates, including the rules for self-quarantine after travel?

Answer: Violations may be reported to investigations@alaska.gov.
According the State of Alaska's Frequently Asked Questions about the COVID-19 Health Mandates, if you know a business or individual that isn’t following a mandate, violations may be reported to investigations@alaska.gov.

Question: Do homemade masks work against coronavirus? Will hospitals use them?

Answer: Yes and no.
Because the effectiveness of cloth masks is unknown in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has listed them as an item of last resort for health care providers. Generally, homemade masks resemble surgical masks and are loose-fitting. That is, they don't sculpt to the face the way N-95 respirator-style masks do. Because of loose fit, it's thought that this style of masks won't prevent transmission of the virus. But it may help someone who is ill from spreading germs. The N-95 label is earned when a mask and the material it's made of effectively defends against 95 percent of very small particles, like airborne contaminants and germs. Most homemade masks will not contain this specialized material.

The Alaska Native Medical Center is among the sites in Alaska accepting homemade masks. For those who wish to make masks, the following criteria must be followed:
·Recommended materials include a single layer of tightly-woven material, such as a dish/tea towel or bed sheets/antimicrobial pillowcases
·The materials used must be able to be washed/dried on high heat
·Please wash your hands and keep your area clean when making the masks.
·Do not offer to volunteer if you have any symptoms.
·When completed, please bundle masks in packs of 25 or less in a sealed zip lock bag and drop off at the main hospital entrance.
·Masks will be laundered before giving them out to patients and visitors.

ANMC has shared this video on how to make non-surgical hospital masks.

Indiana-based Deaconess Health Systems also has a how-to video on making masks.

Joann Fabrics also has how-to videos on making masks videos and patterns for making protective masks and gowns.

Question: If you've had COVID-19 and recovered, can you catch it again?

Answer: The science isn't in, but it appears unlikely.

Re-infection has not been formally tested. But the nation's top infectious disease expert, The National Institutes of Health Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said there's every reason to believe that once you get it and recover, you won't get it again. Dr. Fauci noted a patient could acquire a coronavirus variation, like SARS or MERS. But he believes all indications are you'll have the defenses you need to stave off the specific virus that causes COVID-19 if re-exposed.

Question: If it's not safe to eat in restaurants (dine-in), why is it considered okay to eat take-out?

Answer: Food is not a known path of contagion.

Alaska State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin explains "the purpose of closing bars and restaurants and some of these other areas -- public establishments -- is really for minimizing direct contact with other people. Because, again, the primary mode of transmission of this virus is through respiratory droplets and mainly through coughs and sneezes." Prohibiting dine-in options is one way to promote social distancing, basically staying far enough away from each other to avoid contagion. What's more, the FDA has said: "...there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19."

Question: Can the coronavirus survive cold weather?
Answer: Yes.

We found the answer to this on the myth buster's section of the World Health Organization's website.

The World Health Organization says cold weather and snow cannot kill the new coronavirus, because human body temperature stays warm even in cold climates.

Question: Can mosquitoes transmit the virus?
Answer: No.

According to the World Health Organization, mosquitoes cannot transmit the virus because the virus spreads through respiratory droplets associated with coughs and sneezes, and saliva or nasal discharge. WHO states "to date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes."

Question: Can my dog/cat /pet catch coronavirus? Can they transmit the virus to people?

Answer: No.

The CDC has said at this time there is no evidence that companion animals can spread the illness. The exception maybe if a person infected with COVID-19 pets an animal and transfers the virus to the animal's skin or fur, and then someone else touches the animal picking up the germs, then touches their face. This is different, though than animals becoming ill with the virus or being carriers of the disease. However, the CDC does recommend limiting contact between pets and people who are sick with COVID-19. "We pet our pets. And so if the pet goes into the ill person's room and then comes out into the rooms where people who are well are, that could be a route of that virus being on the fur, and then somebody else pets that fur and then touches their eyes nose or mouth, so that would be another potential route of infection," Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska State Epidemiologist, told KTUU.

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