Mat-Su COVID-19 cases were not related to travel, borough says

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The first two positive tests for COVID-19 in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough were not related to patient travel, according to Borough Manager John Moosey.

“And that brings some concern,” Moosey said during a live-streamed press conference Monday from the borough’s headquarters in Palmer. “They were here, operating, and they caught this without leaving the area, which really requires us to be much more diligent.”

Borough and state officials stopped short of saying whether either of the Mat-Su cases were signs of community spread, which means the spread of a contagious disease to people who have no known contact with other infected individuals or who have not recently traveled. Epidemiologists continue to investigate.

State health officials on Saturday did describe the first COVID-19 cases in Alaska suspected to be due to community spread: two patients in Anchorage.

State health officials revealed the two positive Mat-Su tests late Sunday, along with eight others around Alaska.

The specific communities within the Mat-Su Borough in which the COVID-19 patients live or work remained unclear Monday. The borough is roughly the geographic size of Scotland and encompasses multiple cities and towns.

Moosey says he has seen great interest from Mat-Su residents on that question. But he says state health officials have not given those details to the borough and that there are medical privacy concerns involved in the decision to not release that information.

It also remains unclear where the Mat-Su patients are believed to have contracted the illness. As many as 14,000 borough residents typically commute to Anchorage for work, though that number has declined significantly with many Anchorage businesses closed and the city under a “hunker down” order.

There is no similar “hunker down” order in the Mat-Su Borough, because the borough does not have the same authority as the Municipality of Anchorage to issue such orders, a borough spokesman said.

Clinton Bennett, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Social Services, said Monday afternoon that a determination had not been made on whether the Mat-Su cases are due to community spread. But Bennett said state epidemiologists continue to investigate the patients’ contacts.