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Alaska governor says jump in virus cases not cause for panic

FILE - In this March 12, 2020 file photon Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Dunleavy has announced that checks from the state's oil-wealth fund will begin going out to residents three months early, citing economic hardships related to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen,File)
June 01, 2020 - 5:54 PM

JUNEAU, Alaska - Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Alaska's largest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases is manageable given the state’s health care capacity.

“We are not panicked,” he said Sunday, after officials reported 27 additional residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

The state has allowed businesses to reopen after closures to try to slow the spread of the virus, with guidance that encourages face coverings, extra cleaning and the ability for people to practice social distancing.

The state has called on organizers of large events to adopt similar protocols.

Many of the cases reported Sunday were tied to a nursing rehabilitation centre in Anchorage, which as of Monday afternoon had 17 cases, said Dr. Michael Bernstein, chief medical officer of Providence Health and Services Alaska. Bernstein said officials began testing residents and staff at Providence Transitional Care Center after a resident there tested positive Friday. They also started testing residents and staff at Providence Extended Care, a nearby facility.

He said it's “highly unlikely” the individual who first tested positive had acquired the illness outside the facility, citing the person's duration of stay. “So, we believe they did acquire the infection within the facility,” he said.

Since March, the campus has not allowed visitors except for end-of-life situations, he said, adding he was unsure if there were any such cases. Providence has been screening and taking temperature readings of staff and asking that people admitted to the centre are tested, Bernstein said.

Another round of testing is planned, he said.

Dr. Anne Zink, the state's chief medical officer, said there appeared to be community spread in the Matanuska-Susitna, Anchorage and Kenai regions. “At least some of the cases” appear linked to “some clusters relating to some large celebrations,” Zink said, without specifying the events.

“We always knew that open never meant over,” she said, urging people to keep using masks in public and maintaining distance from non-household members.

Dunleavy has repeatedly encouraged Alaskans to take precautions, including avoiding unnecessary contact with others. But last week, he attended an outdoor Memorial Day event, where he shook hands and posed for pictures without a face covering. Others in the photos on his social media accounts also weren't wearing masks.

A message seeking comment from Dunleavy's press office wasn't immediately returned Monday.

The state said more than 800 hospital beds were available Monday and announced seven new COVID-19 cases among residents. That brings the total to 467, with 10 deaths. There also have been 21 cases involving non-residents, many of them tied to the seafood industry.

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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