DHSS: Three new cases of new coronavirus in Alaska, bringing total to nine

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There are three new cases of the new coronavirus in Alaska, bringing the total to nine in the state thus far, as announced by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Wednesday afternoon.

The three new positive cases included two people in Anchorage and one in Seward, DHSS said. Two of those cases were in people who recently traveled to the Lower 48, and one is in an individual who had returned from Europe.

"We're in this small window of time where we're closing down the chance of the spread," said DHSS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, pleading again with people to not only socially distance themselves but also implement quarantines as seen fit. "This is a very important time in Alaska. The better we can do this now, the better off we're going to be.

"We're trying to mandate social distancing as much as we can," Zink said. "If you are not feeling well or you have traveled anywhere outside of Alaska, please stay away from people for the next 14 days."

Zink and DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum and Zink hosted the Wednesday briefing specifically to discuss the "latest development" surrounding the new coronavirus and said that while test processing is going on just about 24 hours a day, there is no updated count on the number of negative tests that have come back from Alaska.

"This situation continues to change every day," Crum said. "We're doing what we can to make sure we limit the spread throughout Alaska."

Neither Zink nor Crum had an updated figure for how many samples had tested negative for the virus, though the DHSS website said 400 tests administered from Jan. 1 through March 16 showed no presence of the virus.

When asked specifically about a potential "shelter in place" order, Zink said: “If we have to go that route, we’re seeing playbooks from around the world. Hopefully we don’t get there.”

She also said it's difficult to know if or when a border closure might go into effect at all.

"It's hard to know," Zink said. "As humans, we think in a linear way. This disease is moving in an exponential way. I do not know of plans to close (state borders), but we have to keep very present, and I think people should be prepared for significant closures or sheltering in place to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed."

Zink also said there are significant concerns over the capabilities of the state's health system, and that residents need to do everything they can to stop the spread of the virus so as not to overwhelm providers or infrastructure.

"The reason we’re pushing so hard on this social isolation," she said, "is because we have limited capacity – that includes hospital beds, personnel and staff, all that. We are concerned we do not have enough capacity."

Wednesday's press conference was done via teleconference in light of the practice of social distancing, considered one of the best ways to flatten the infection rate curve and avoid the rapid spread of the virus.

"This is a joint effort," Zink said, "and it's going to take all of us. This is a choice Alaska gets to make of which way we go.”

Guidelines of social distancing including separating yourself from others by at least six feet, in addition to practicing good hand washing and only going out if needed. Learn more about how to protect yourself and others by going to the Centers for Disease Control website.

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