Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Dr. Anne Zink speaks on teleconference during a press conference hosted by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

ANCHORAGE — Criteria for testing for coronavirus was broadened Thursday at Gov. Dunleavy’s press conference with Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink and Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum.

Alaska had nine more people test positive for coronavirus on Thursday and 11 more on Friday, bringing the state’s total up to 246. The Mat-Su now has nine people who have tested positive for COVID 19, with five in Palmer and four in Wasilla.

“These are by far the most broad guidelines of any state that I know of,” said Zink. “The data that we're showing looks like it’s really making a gigantic difference and when we’re thinking about how do we open things back up, testing is a key component of that and so making sure that we're testing broadly around the state is really really important to do.”

Zink said that Alaska’s guidelines for testing were broadened to include any recent onset cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing and any onset of any combination of chills, diminished senses of smell or taste, fatigue, fever, headaches, muscle and joint aches, gastrointestinal distress, shaking, runny nose, sore throat or sputum production. Zink said that Alaskans can email with questions.

“There’s lot on there but the more that we do these case investigations, the more we’re just amazed at how mild sometimes the symptoms can be,” said Zink.

Dunleavy announced on Thursday that President Trump had signed Alaska’s declaration of disaster due to the COVID 19 pandemic and that schools would remain closed to students throughout the end of the school year and school districts would be permitted to carry over more than 10 percent of their funding into the next fiscal year. Crum announced that Health Mandate 6 postponed elective oral procedures and Health Mandates 11 and 12 enacting social distancing measures and prohibiting in state travel will be reevaluated on April 21. Dunleavy also announced that 100 more employees would be hired to help process unemployment insurance claims bringing the total number up to 200. A total of 36,000 Alaskans have filed unemployment insurance claims and Dunleavy said that he hoped checks would be sent out within 7 to 10 days of the filing of the claim.

We’re going to build up that capacity to try and process these claims as quickly as we can,” said Dunleavy.

Dunleavy also announced the decision by the court system to release defendants without bail on minor misdemeanor charges except stalking and Domestic Violence. Dunleavy said that conversations were ongoing regarding coastal fisheries and he encouraged Alaskans to get outdoors, saying that he would not push for enforcement of in state travel restrictions as long as Alaskans only travel with their family members and maintain a distance of six feet away from others.

“We don’t believe that’s necessary at that point,” said Dunleavy.

Zink said during an answer to a question about antibody testing that tests had been ordered, but data is mixed and health officials are yet unsure as to where the tests would be best utilized. Zink continues to track the data on how many of the completed tests have come back positive as that number has climbed daily. As of Friday, .33 percent of the 7,432 Alaskans who have been tested for COVID 19 have tested positive. In the Mat-Su, 454 people have been tested, accounting for just .43 percent of the more than 106,000 people in the Mat-Su Borough.

“The more that you do to slow the spread of this disease right now, the better off we all are and the more we can move back to life as we know it,” said Zink.

At a press conference in the Mat-Su Borough Assembly chambers on Wednesday, Capstone founder Wade Erickson said he was concerned about the state’s broadened testing criteria and the supplies necessary to continue to test Alaskans.

“We believe at this time we have the supplies, and thes supply chain continues to loosen up particularly with what we're able to produce ourselves here in the state that we can really kind of push these guidelines even more broadly than they were before, and even our past guidelines were more broad than the CDC guidelines nationally,” said Zink. “We’re literally able to make the swabs as well as the reagent itself, and so before we weren’t able to make that and so it really depended on what we could get from a federal supply but because we’re able to make it now we do think that we’re trying to balance what we can make and what we have with what we can test.”

Zink said that the state has been operating in ‘plan b’ for some time, but continue to acquire necessary resources to test Alaskans for COVID 19. Zink said that 250,000 masks were donated by the Providence Hospital system to rural areas and other supplies are being distributed amongst hospitals and clinicians around the state. Zink said that one long term care facility had both a resident and staff member who tested positive, resulting in everyone at the facility being tested, and that she was thankful that had only occurred at one location in Alaska.

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