UPDATE: COVID-19 prompts additional safety measures

UPDATE 3/31/2020:

The first death of an Alaska resident from COVID-19 occurred in Washington state on March 24. Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said that the victim became infected in Washington.

As of March 28, a second Alaska resident died at Anchorage Native Medical Center, or ANMC. The deceased was a woman in her 60s with underlying medical issues. This is the first death due to COVID-19 in Alaska.

This death prompted Gov. Mike Dunleavy to issue a “social distancing” mandate that is essentially the same as a “shelter in place” mandate at a news conference on March 27. It is effective March 28 at 5 p.m. and will be reevaluated by April 11, according to the mandate.

Earlier in the week, over 120 doctors sent an official letter to Gov. Dunleavy on March 21, urging him to enact a full “shelter in place” order that would stop non-essential travel to slow the curve of infection from sources outside the state. Doctors that signed the letter are mostly based in Anchorage, but also practice in Ketchikan, Wasilla, the Kenai Peninsula and Fairbanks. A day later, on March 22, doctors in Fairbanks sent a similar letter to the governor with 50 signatures.

The mandate prohibits travel between communities. The mandate states that the goal of this is to stop the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve of the infection rate.

The mandates also say that residents should stay in their homes as much as possible and only leave for necessary reasons, such as getting groceries or seeking medical care. Essential workers, such as healthcare employees and first responders, may still go to work, but all non-essential employees are to work from home as much as possible. 

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Outdoor recreation is permitted, as long as it is close to the resident’s home and social distancing of at least 6 feet from non-family members is required.

Those that do develop symptoms are to not leave their homes unless medical care is needed. If a family member develops symptoms within a household, they should be isolated from other household members not showing symptoms.

Violations of this mandate may be punishable by law and could result in fines of up to $25,000, charged with reckless endangerment and a class A misdemeanor.

Organizations that violate this mandate, which result in fatalities due to the virus, can be charged $2.5 million and a class A misdemeanor. Infection without death, due to mandate violation, can result in fines up to $500,000.

Cases of COVID-19 are rising in Alaska daily. Areas where cases have been confirmed are Anchorage, including JBER, Eagle River, Chugiak, Girdwood, Homer, Seward, Sterling, Soldotna, Fairbanks, North Pole, Palmer, Juneau and Ketchikan.

Fairbanks is believed to have community-spread cases, which means that the virus is spreading from person to person, even if they have not traveled out of state, according to Dr. Zink.

Those infected with the virus range in age from the first child infected, who is related to a previously infected individual, according to Alaska Public Media; to people in their 60s. 

For more information on COVID-19 in Alaska, visit the State of Alaska COVID-19 Updates page. For information about Anchorage-specific cases, visit the Anchorage Municipality COVID-19 Updates page. For national and international updates about the virus, visit the Center For Disease Control and the World Health Organization.


UPDATE 3/24/2020:

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alaska increased to 21 total, as of March 22.

Seven new cases emerged on March 21. The new cases are in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sterling and Soldotna, with three in Ketchikan. Overall, Anchorage has five confirmed cases, Fairbanks has seven, Ketchikan has six and Sterling, Soldotna and Seward have one each.

On March 20, the State of Alaska released a “strong advisory,” recommending that all nonessential personal, business and medical travel stop immediately, including travel within and outside the state.

The first case of COVID-19 in Alaska was confirmed in a cargo pilot traveling through Anchorage on March 12. Two older males were confirmed to have the virus in Fairbanks. Both cases are believed to be travel related, according to Alaska’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced a statewide mandate issued on March 17 that all bars and restaurants stop dine-in services on March 18. Order and drive-through services are still available. Other entertainment establishments are also temporarily closed down, including movie theaters, bingo halls and gyms. This mandate is also in effect until April 1.

Some local department stores, such as both Target locations in Anchorage, are adapting to the mandate by offering the first hour of store operations exclusively to seniors and individuals with compromised immune systems. Every Wednesday, these citizens can shop from 8 a.m.–9 a.m. Carrs has also implemented senior hours Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7 a.m.–9 a.m. at all Anchorage locations, with presented identification.

Anchorage is offering drive-through COVID-19 testing for individuals with compromised immune systems. Participants are required to obtain a doctor’s referral first, due to the limited amount of testing kits, according to Anchorage health officials.

These services are a collaboration between Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Medical Center, Alaska Regional Hospital and Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

Scientists, health researchers and doctors race to make a vaccine for COVID-19, with tests in Seattle using the first human volunteer. A vaccine is in the beginning stages of development, but the process is being accelerated with health and safety standards still in order, according to The National Institute of Allergy and Disease.

For up to date information about COVID-19 in Alaska, visit the Municipality of Anchorage site. Detailed information about the virus can be found on the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov and the World Health Organization at who.int. Information about COVID-19 concerning UAA can be found at the UAA Coronavirus Information Site on the UA website.

This is a developing story, and updates will be made regularly at The Northern Light.


UPDATE: UAA responds to COVID-19

The University of Alaska system has taken steps to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, on its campuses. As of March 12, there is one confirmed case in Alaska.

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

The person infected came to Anchorage on a cargo plane and has been identified as an adult male and “a foreign national individual who was transiting through” the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, according to Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, from an Alaska Dispatch News article.

President Jim Johnsen announced in an email to the UA system on March 12 that spring break will be extended until March 22. Chancellor Cathy Sandeen also posted a video message regarding the steps the university is taking to respond to COVID-19.

On March 23, the majority of classes on the UAA campus will resume via alternative delivery methods, such as online, video conference and audio conference. Classes that require labs or hands-on practices may still resume and will use social distancing measures, or remaining 6 feet from others, to help avoid the spread of the virus, according to Chancellor Sandeen.

Students who live in residence halls who have traveled to their permanent homes for spring break are asked to remain at their permanent homes until further notice. Students who remained in the residence halls during spring break should plan to travel back to their permanent homes or make alternative living arrangements by March 17 and stay there until notified.

For students with no other place to live besides residence halls, UAA will provide a process to request exemptions, which has not yet been announced. Students in residence halls are to stay in their room as much as possible, self observe for symptoms and practice social distancing. UAA will allow temporary access to resident halls for students who need personal items or study materials.

Events and gatherings of 25 or more people will be canceled, postponed or will be held through video or audio conference. If the event or gathering is less than 25 people, it may still proceed, but will be greatly cautioned to take steps to prevent infection, such as hosting the event in a larger venue with better ventilation. These restrictions apply until at least March 31, and apply to all events and gatherings held on UAA grounds or buildings, regardless of university affiliation, according to President Johnsen’s email.

There are also travel restrictions for UAA, located in a PDF attachment in Johnsen’s email. Outbound travel for UAA to any community with any level of COVID-19 is prohibited. Travelers returning to UAA from the U.S. or countries experiencing any level of infection of COVID-19 in the past 14 days or have been a cruise passenger for the past 14 days should practice self-quarantining. Those restricted are asked to stay home, self observe for symptoms, stay away from gatherings or crowds and are asked not to return to campus.

Restrictions also apply to anyone who has had close contact with someone who infected with COVID-19, is symptomatic of the virus or is under investigation of the CDC. This applies to all students, employees and campus visitors.

UAA employees can return to work until notified. Students and employees can fill out a form online notifying the university that they have traveled somewhere that has COVID-19 exposure, for the safety of the campus.

The CDC asks people to wash their hands and use sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not accessible, and avoid touching hands, nose or mouth with unwashed hands in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shut down universities, suspended the NBA season and travel

from Europe has been suspended. The virus has killed 36 people in the U.S., and there are 1,215 active cases, according to the Center for Disease Control or CDC.

UA has a website for COVID-19 information for students and university employees. The CDC is regularly updating its site about statistics of the spread of the virus, as well as a wealth of information about how to prevent it and resources concerning it. The State of Alaska site also has regular updates and more information about COVID-19.


Novel coronavirus, or nCoV, is an upper-respiratory infection that originated in Wuhan, China, with victims of the virus primarily located in China.

Corona is Latin for ‘crown’ and describes the appearance of the virus when seen at a microscopic level. Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Coronavirus itself is not a new type of illness, but rather a part of a large family of illnesses found in both humans and animals. Diseases under this category also include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. The virus currently affecting China and other countries is a new strain or “novel” strain, with the full name 2019-nCoV, as it was first reported in December of 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control, or CDC.

NCoV has over 28,060 confirmed cases and 564 deaths, the director of WHO, Tedros Adhanom, said in a press conference on Feb. 6. Outside of China, there are 225 reported cases in 24 countries and one confirmed death in the Philippines.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has made its way to 25 countries since December of 2019, but is not present in Alaska at this time. Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are currently 11 cases confirmed in the U.S. and 76 pending. States with confirmed cases are Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska has no confirmed or pending cases as of Feb. 7, per the CDC.

Mary Woodring is a family nurse practitioner at the UAA Student Health and Counseling Center. She reassures students concerned about nCoV that Alaska is not among the U.S. states with confirmed cases of the virus.

“The most important thing to know right now is that the virus is not in Alaska currently. We have been in touch with Public Health recently and there are no cases or even suspected cases of coronavirus,” Woodring said.

Brooke Hansen is a political science major at UAA. Despite others’ worries about nCoV, she says she is not overly concerned about coronavirus, as living in Alaska eases her worries.

“I’m not too concerned about [getting nCoV], especially living in a state that has no known cases of the virus,” Hansen said.

Symptoms for novel coronavirus are believed to appear as soon as two days or as long as 14 after exposure, according to the Center for Disease Control. Patients affected with the virus have reported mild to severe respiratory symptoms including a cough, fever and shortness of breath. Travelers that have been to China in the last two weeks are advised to contact a doctor for possible exposure, as advised by the CDC.

There are precautions that the public can take to prevent and contain the novel coronavirus, such as covering coughs and sneezes with one’s elbow. Image courtesy of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are ways to prevent the further spread of the disease in everyday life, according to Woodring. She stresses that the most basic forms of personal hygiene are the most important ways of preventing nCoV.

“The biggest thing that can protect against this virus, like any infection, is hand washing. Wash with soap and water and try not to rely on hand sanitizer alone. Hand washing will help protect from all viruses and sanitizer will only kill some viruses,” Woodring said.

Because nCoV is a new strain of coronavirus, there is not extensive information on it, according to the CDC.

How the virus is spread from person to person is unknown for certain, but it is believed to be through respiratory droplets, according to Woodring. Microorganisms are formed in droplets when a person coughs, sneezes or talks and others can be exposed to these droplets through close contact. Droplets can also end up on the nose or mouth of another person or inhaled into the lungs.

However, this does not mean that the virus is spread by airborne transmission, or simply breathing the same air as an infected person, Woodring said. She suggests that students take preventative measures when coughing or sneezing to protect themselves from person to person infection.

“If you are coughing and sneezing, make sure that you are using good etiquette to protect others [from droplets]. Make sure you cough and sneeze into your elbow and throw tissues away properly,” Woodring said.

Micheal Murphy is a psychology major at UAA and echoes Hansen’s thoughts on the virus. His concerns are minimal about nCoV and he is confident in Alaska’s ability to handle the disease if it were to surface in the state.

“I do find it mildly concerning, especially since it’s the season for sickness, [but] I’m not too concerned since [Alaskans] are so far from the rest of the U.S.,” Murphy said. “I think that the state would also be on top of it and alert us if a case were to happen.”

The State of Alaska is closely monitoring nCoV and residents can subscribe to Alaska Public Health Notices via email or text through the State of Alaska site.

“We stay in close contact with Public Health and we would let students know as soon as we are made aware of [tje virus] in the state,” Woodring said.

For more information about nCoV, visit the CDC and WHO through cdc.gov. WHO also releases daily press releases with up to date information on Facebook. In-state information can be found at the State of Alaska site at dhss.alaska.gov.

For concerns at UAA about the novel coronavirus, the Student Health and Counseling Center in Rasmussen Hall, room 116/120, can answer questions by email at [email protected], phone at (907) 786-4040 or during business hours of Monday-Wednesday, 8-6 p.m., Thursday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-6 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.