Alaska State Virology Laboratory technician Ben Hedges works in the background at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory located at the Fairbanks campus. The lab manufactures the transport medium on site for use in COVID-19 testing in Alaska. (Courtesy photo / JR Ancheta, UAF)

Alaska State Virology Laboratory technician Ben Hedges works in the background at the Alaska State Virology Laboratory located at the Fairbanks campus. The lab manufactures the transport medium on site for use in COVID-19 testing in Alaska. (Courtesy photo / JR Ancheta, UAF)

State sets another daily record with 231 new virus cases Sunday

Juneau health officials concerned about case rise

  • Monday, July 27, 2020 6:20pm
  • News

Alaska health officials said the state experienced a record number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday with 231. On Monday, the state reported another 104 cases, one new hospitalization and one new death.

The person who died was a Yukon-Koykuk Census area man in his 60s with preexisting conditions, according to the state.

The City and Borough of Juneau announced Monday seven new cases in the borough, one of whom was an employee of the Juneau School District. The employee was not currently at work, the city said in a news release, and would only return to work once the Division of Public Health has determined no further risk of transmission.

After review, Public Health officials determined there was no risk of COVID-19 exposure to other district employees or the public, according to the city.

Statewide, there are currently 36 people who are hospitalized with COVID-19, three are on ventilators, according to Department of Health and Social Services’ data. A total of 116 Alaskans have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

There are 44 active cases in Juneau, said Mila Cosgrove, who heads the city’s Emergency Operations Command, and are mostly associated with an outbreak at seafood processing business Alaska Glacier Seafood in Auke Bay.

[Alaska and Juneau hit new highs for COVID-19 cases]

“All 44 are well isolated according to Public Health,” Cosgrove told the Empire Monday in an interview. “We’ve been following the AGS thing fairly closely. The individuals are having mild, moderate symptoms but no one has required hospitalization.”

Juneau reported no cases for Sunday, Cosgrove said, noting that the state’s data was slightly behind the city’s because of information delay. The city wants to keep the public as up to date as possible, Cosgrove said, and releases its data as soon as its available but before it can be reflected in state numbers.

But even with Juneau’s numbers for now being relatively low, city officials are concerned rising numbers are reflective of a larger trend, Cosgrove said.

“It does make me nervous because that’s indicative of a bigger climb,” she said. “We’re at a place where people should just be vigilant, as hard as it is and as tired as we are of hearing it.”

Currently, even if all 44 patients were to need hospitalization it would certainly strain hospital capacity according to Cosgrove, but it wouldn’t exceed the city’s surge capacity.

[Juneau a testing hub? Assembly to consider buying testing machine]

City health officials have been working with manufacturers to purchase a testing machine that would allow COVID-19 tests to be completed locally, but even under the best-case scenario that’s still several months away, according to Robert Barr, planning section chief for the EOC.

“Manufacturers’ supply lines are extremely stressed, testing is in high demand,” Barr said. “The most optimistic of them would say maybe we could ship in October, maybe you could be operational in November.”

Barr and Cosgrove spoke to the Empire by phone Monday and urged the public to limit their social interactions and be hyper-vigilant and health precautions.

“We’ve been pushing the same message for so long, really hard for people to hear the same message for so long,” Barr said. “Particularly right now, we hope that we’re wrong, but we’re concerned we might be on the cusp of a bigger spike.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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