Alaska saw its highest single-day coronavirus case count over the weekend —twice
Sunday, 116 cases were reported, which is the first time a daily case count exceeded 100. The 77 cases reported Saturday were the previous record.
On Monday, the state reported 71 additional cases, 60 from residents, 11 from nonresidents. The new cases bring the state’s total of active cases to 902.
Current hospitalizations remain low compared to other states — 22 on Monday, according to state data — and no new deaths were reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national average for hospitalizations is 107 per 100,000 people.
Those figures are something Gov. Mike Dunleavy points to when asked about the state’s rising case count and whether the state will issue a face covering mandate. Dunleavy has repeatedly said he prefers to rely on individual initiative rather than government mandate, saying providing people with good information will lead them to make right decisions.
On Twitter Sunday, Dunleavy urged Alaskans to observe health precautions.
“I hope Alaskans will join me in practicing social distancing, wearing a mask when you can’t keep your distance from others, and staying home if you are sick. The actions you take today may save someone’s life,” Dunleavy said on Twitter.
At a news conference Monday evening, Dunleavy said he disagrees with using mandates as a means of getting people to comply with health precautions saying “it’s really an act of desperation.”
“I certainly don’t want to infringe on the rights of folks, that’s very important to me,” Dunleavy said. “If we just did a few things every once in a while, if we step back just a little bit and start working on some of these mitigation approaches we did several months ago, we will get to as close to normal as possible. We don’t need to take draconian actions here in Alaska.”
City and Borough of Juneau’s data hub shows six active cases locally. Three cases reported Saturday is the highest single-day increase so far reported for Juneau.
“Right now, there are six known active cases, I suspect there are more unknown cases out there,” said Robert Barr, planning section chief for the city’s emergency operations center.
Most of the cases reported over the weekend were in Anchorage and Fairbanks. The state reported 34 cases in the Anchorage Municipality for both Saturday and Sunday, and Fairbanks counted a weekend total of 32.
“We’re concerned about the speed of spread in other Alaskan communities, our major city pairs,” Barr said, referring to communities that see a lot of back and forth travel. “Seattle is right there at the top.”
Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Kenai Penninsula are other major city pairs, Barr said. Those communities have also seen recent increases in COVID-19 cases.
Travel numbers are growing, Barr said, but most people traveling to the state seem to be complying with health regulations. The city is currently following 60 individuals identified by public health nursing as having been close contact with a positive case, according to Barr. There are multiple definitions of “close contact” under state health regulations, including living in the same household or being within 6-feet of one another for at least 10 minutes.
“We have anecdotal information from the airport, and by and large, there is participation,” Barr said. “We’ve had one-off cases every now and then, people who don’t comply and give our screeners and testers a hard time, but they’re most definitely in the minority.”
Alaska’s travel mandates require out-of-state travelers to provide documentation of recent negative test results, receive a test at the airport and quarantine until they receive negative results, or quarantine for 14 days.
Interstate travelers make up 40-50% of all arrivals at Juneau International Airport since early May, and in the week ending July 12, more half of all arrivals — about 1,200 — were from out of state.
Travel mandates are backed up by fines and potentially even jail time, Barr said, but Dunleavy has said enforcement of health regulations was going to be a low priority.
“The enforcement piece is relatively easy to get around if you’re trying to be negligent,” Barr said.
Barr said city officials are most concerned with spread from asymptomatic or barely symptomatic people who don’t realize they’re carrying the virus.
“Every indication from trusted medical professionals is that mask wearing is safe and effective,” Barr said. “We strongly encourage the public to wear masks whenever they cannot maintain physical distance, especially indoors, with other individuals who are not part of their family group.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.