State agencies are working with local and federal authorities to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters Monday morning.
In a teleconference with Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, Dunleavy said the state was consulting with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide for testing even though there have been no confirmed cases in Alaska.
“We got this. We started to develop protocols in January,” Dunleavy told reporters, referring to when a plane carrying American citizens who had been in the area of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, landed in Anchorage.
State agencies were watching the spread of the virus in other communities throughout the U.S. and communicating with those municipalities, Dr. Zink said. The state was ramping up its testing capabilities she said, and had two testing facilities in the state located in Fairbanks and Anchorage.
“We should expect more cases,” Zink said. “We’re acting as if we have cases now.”
The state has the capacity to test up to 500 people, but so far had only tested 23. It was important, Zink said, to be strategic in determining whom the state should test because the testing process is resource-intensive.
“You have to have the personnel, it has to be sent to state (or private) lab,” she said. “None of our local hospitals can do it.”
Results from the test can take anywhere from two to four hours once the samples have arrived at the lab. Though the state has seen an increase in testing, Zink said, that has not resulted in a “bottleneck” at the labs which hold up testing.
The federal government had recently appropriated in $3.8 billion to combat the coronavirus, Crum said, and $900 million of that is meant for state aid. It’s not clear how much of that was coming to Alaska, he said, but the state’s congressional delegation was involved in negotiating on behalf of the state.
The state Legislature had recently approved $4.1 million for response to the virus, some of which will be used to deploy nurses and other health staff to rural areas of the state, Crum said.
It was important that people not panic, Dunleavy said, and take careful, commonsense steps to prevent any potential spread of the virus. That included things like staying home if a person appears sick, teleconferencing when possible and practicing good hygiene.
“We really encourage every one to take a deep breath,” Zink said.
A series of town hall meetings with the governor have been suspended due to concerns over the virus, according to the governor’s office. Meetings with Alaskans could continue to take place electronically, according to a release, until it was considered safe for travel to resume.
As to the volatility in the stock market and drops in the price of oil, Dunleavy said there wasn’t much reason to worry.
“This is a bump in the road for Alaska,” Dunleavy said. “I believe the underlying fundamentals of the United States economy are pretty strong. We have really good people running our Permanent Fund, and they’re on top of it.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.