Number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska rises to 12, including first cases unrelated to travel

This transmission electron microscope image shows the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The virus was isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state health officials announced Thursday that the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska has grown to 12.

The case count has risen every day this week, and includes patients in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Seward. The test results announced Thursday add two more cases from Fairbanks and one more from Ketchikan to the list.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the new cases in Fairbanks were not related to the patients having traveled out of state, as they were with the earlier cases. She said public health officials were trying to determine if they’d had contact with the previously confirmed cases, or if the virus has spread in the Fairbanks community.

“Either way, it’s concerning that the two people in Fairbanks had not traveled in the last 14 days, and so we know there had either been transmission from the other people who had traveled — and again, the importance of really staying home if you’re not feeling well — or they’re community cases, and we’re exploring that,” Zink said.

Catch up on the latest news about the coronavirus in Alaska.

Zink asked Alaskans to limit movement within their communities, to limit contact with others and to practice good hygiene, including frequent hand-washing.

“I think as humans, we think in a very linear process, and what’s hard about the virus is it’s really moving in an exponential phase,” Zink said. “It’s, it’s just doubling and very quickly. We haven’t gotten to that exponential phase here in Alaska. But that’s what we’re seeing in Italy in the Lower 48 and other places. And so that’s why these these small measures now can make a gigantic difference.”

Zink also announced two new health mandates: One bans elective medical procedures, and the other bans elective dental procedures. She said the mandates were aimed at maintaining stocks of medical supplies.

Related: Anchorage airman is among those who have tested positive for COVID-19

Dunleavy said he was on a phone call Thursday morning with President Trump and the governors of other states, many of which Dunleavy said had been hit harder than Alaska.

“We’re fortunate to this date we’ve had no deaths in the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to minimize that from occurring for the people of Alaska.”

The governor stopped short of announcing any mandate banning nonessential air travel to and from Alaska or restricting travel within the state. That’s what a group of emergency room directors in the state recommended in an open letter to Dunleavy published by the Anchorage Daily News.

But Dunleavy said “nothing is off the table” and that restrictions on air travel were part of ongoing discussions.