Anchorage officials say COVID measures are helping stem disease transmissions

City Manager and Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander Bill Falsey speaking in the Alaska Public Media studio in March 2020 about the Municipality of Anchorage’s response to the coronavirus.

Emergency managers in Anchorage delivered a hopeful message to the public Tuesday: the city’s drastic social distancing measures appear to be slowing the rate of spread of the coronavirus, helping “flatten the curve” of new infections.

Incident Commander Bill Falsey spoke at a weekly briefing from the city’s Emergency Operations Center, saying that according to municipal and third-party figures, residents are complying with orders to hunker down.

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“All the early signs are promising, the data we’re seeing from people out on the streets and from our cellphones are all pointing in the right direction. From where I sit, everything I know, it looks like we are doing good,” Falsey said.

He was quick to caution not to take that as a signal the city has plans to relax its preventative measures in the near future. While the rate of transmission in Anchorage has not exploded, the EOC has been coordinating with partners to bring more isolation and quarantine beds online should hospitals begin reaching capacity in the coming weeks.

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As of Tuesday, according to Falsey, the city is tracking 61 COVID-19-positive individuals in the municipality through its contact tracing program, and is monitoring a total of 198 who may be infected. However, that does not include patients monitored by the State of Alaska or Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, who are counted separately. According to numbers from the state’s Department of Health and Social Services, there are a total of 98 confirmed cases in the Municipality of Anchorage.

Local emergency managers have stood up what they’re calling a “non-critical transport” service. It involves using city vehicles to transport COVID-positive individuals to non-life threatening medical treatments like dialysis, while minimizing cross-infection or tying up ambulances. Falsey said that so far the number of such transports day to day have ranged from zero to 18.

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Officials stressed that people do still need to stay vigilant and continue taking the threat seriously, whether that is staying home, limiting grocery store trips, or wearing cloth masks in public.

“Right now the use of a mask is a gesture of kindness and reciprocity, it is all of us acting together to protect all of us,” Falsey said.

He also asked people to make a plan for what they’ll do if they become infected, whether that is strategies for quarantining at home with a partner, or preparations for pet-care if they are hospitalized.

The city has not started enacting plans for a second phase of emergency response. Falsey said that he’s hopeful new tools will come online that will eventually allow the city to relax the restrictions, but in the meantime the priority remains not overwhelming the healthcare system.

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“The emerging consensus is that you get out of this when you have much more ubiquitous testing, and testing of a couple different flavors,” he said. “And that’s why the ‘buying the time’ that we’re doing is not just time for time’s sake, it’s not just so we can build dozens of extra hospital beds, it is to wait for the science and for the supply chains to catch up to us so that we will have a whole different kind of approach available to us.”

Falsey said the city has received hundreds of supply donations, everything from extra protective equipment to 17 gallons of alcohol-based hand sanitizer nicknamed “Captain’s Remedy” manufactured by a local rum distillery.

RELATED: In a state where distancing comes easy, Alaskans flee virus to remote camps and cabins

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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