Juneauites started celebrating the holiday early, as crisp blue skies and warm weather brought locals out to trails, lakes and beaches around town. But holiday celebrations usually mean gatherings, and there are concerns people might not be vigilant with health precautions over the Fourth of July weekend.
Rising COVID-19 case counts and temperatures have state and local officials concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19 in large gatherings for holiday celebrations. Alaska reported record-high numbers of new COVID-19 cases for four straight days in the lead up to the Fourth of July, and sunny weather means people are likely to be outdoors.
The state reported Friday another Alaskan dead with the coronavirus. That brings the reported number of Alaskans who have died to 15. The state also announced 60 new cases, including 46 resident cases and 14 nonresident cases.
The deceased was an Anchorage man in his 80s, according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
“We are thinking of the loved ones of the person who died,” said Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink in a Friday news release. “We are concerned about Alaska’s sharp rise in cases and hope everyone takes this as a warningcall to limit contacts this weekend, stay six feet apart from non-household members, wear a face mask and wash your hands often. If you are sick, even with mild COVID-19 symptoms, please isolate yourself and seek testing.”
Twenty-one new cases were reported for Anchorage; Fairbanks North Star Borough, 10; Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 5; Kenai Peninsula Borough, 4; and one each for Juneau, Bethel, Nome and the Valdez-Cordova and Kusilvak Census Areas.
The Empire learned Thursday evening one of its employees, after a personal trip outside of the City and Borough of Juneau, had tested positive for COVID-19. The reporter, who had not returned to the Empire’s offices since the trip, is isolating.
Friday was the fourth day in a row Alaska announced record-high numbers of new residential cases, and the number of active cases in the state on Friday rose above 500.
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the low number of deaths and hospitalizations meant that while case counts were rising, the state was able to manage the increase. On Friday the state reported only 25 COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
“The virus is real, it’s alive and it’s spreading,” Dunleavy said Tuesday. “The vast majority of Alaskans, many of them don’t even know they have the virus. This virus, although highly contagious, is concentrating the worst effects on those with underlying health effects and the elderly.”
Dunleavy has rebuffed calls for a mandate requiring cloth face coverings, but strongly urged people to wear masks while in public places. Sunny weather and the holiday weekend meant Alaskans would likely be gathering for celebrations, and health precautions like social distancing should be used even at backyard BBQs.
The governor said he hoped Alaskans would act responsibly while celebrating the holiday and, “show this country that Alaskans can think of each other.”
Warmer weather is expected for Juneau and Southeast over the weekend, according to Kimberly Vaughan, observing program leader at the National Weather Service, but ‘sunny” might be subjective, she said.
“Relatively speaking, for Southeast Alaska standards,” Vaughan said. “Definitely looking at a little more clouds, but nice days and mostly dry. Basically, if you’re a gardener you’re going to have to go out and water your garden.”
On Thursday, Juneau, Skagway and Yakutat all broke daily records for highest temperature, Vaughan said, with temperatures at Juneau International Airport Thursday reaching 83 degrees. Temperatures broke the daily record the day before as well, according to Vaughan, who said temperatures at the airport reached 78 Wednesday, beating the previous record of 77 set in 1989.
In addition to higher temperatures, winds are expected across Southeast and NWS Juneau issued a special weather statement saying there was an elevated risk of fire over the weekend.
“While high temperatures, wind speeds and minimum relative humidity values will not be as pronounced as Thursday, the continued drying trend and weather pattern will keep an elevated risk for fire danger,” the statement said. “Take extra caution with any outdoor burning or any use of fireworks through the weekend.”
June, which is typically one of Juneau’s driest months according to Vaughan, was wetter than normal and a few warm days wouldn’t do too much to dry out the fuel brushfires rely on.
Fireworks are legal in Juneau July 3-4, and with the city’s regular event canceled due to health concerns, city officials before the weekend urged extra caution when using personal fireworks.
City rules regarding fireworks can be found at the city’s website. Using fireworks outside of the allowed times can lead to a $300 fine, according to Juneau Police Department Lt. Krag Campbell.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.