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Surge in COVID-19 cases pushes Anchorage virus tracking to its limit

(Photo: Pixabay / License Link)(MGN)
(Photo: Pixabay / License Link)(MGN)(KWQC)
Published: Jul. 2, 2020 at 5:45 PM AKDT
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An ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases has stretched Anchorage contact tracers to their limit.

The spike in new infections has been linked to people spending time indoors at busy bars and restaurants. An industry trade group wants to see the hospitality industry

to stop the spread of the virus.

By Wednesday, Anchorage had 551 COVID-19 cases with 231 people recovered from the virus. Another 13 cases were reported in Anchorage on Thursday.

When Alaska was in lockdown, contact tracing was relatively easier. After someone tested positive for the virus, every person they had come into close contact with would be called.

As Alaska has reopened, health officials are seeing the number of close contacts for each positive diagnosis has expanded.

Natasha Pineda, the director of the Anchorage Health Department, said that has pushed contact tracers beyond their capacity. “In this last week we have these locations where there are well over 100 people they may have interacted with and we can’t trace or contact any of them,” Pineda said.

The concern is that people may unknowingly carry COVID to more vulnerable populations.

Dr. Bruce Chandler said the process of contact tracing is not simple and does not require just one phone call. “There will be big challenges ahead,” he said.

Contact tracers from the State of Alaska and the Centers for Disease Control have stepped in to help the Anchorage Health Department. There is also hope that a yet-to-be-operational

could assist city health officials.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services’ website, the State of Alaska has roughly 140 contact tracers currently working statewide. It had been a goal to triple those numbers but DHSS did not respond to a request for comment when that would occur.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said safe social distancing and avoiding crowded enclosed spaces was the best way to curb the spread of the virus.

“Everyone has the potential to be a carrier or to be affected by the disease directly. We need to behave according,” Berkowitz said. “So, it requires a higher degree of responsibility and awareness than we would normally have.”

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