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Gov. Dunleavy outlines state's COVID-19 response, calls virus 'not something to be terrified of'

Alaska Dispatch News - 10/29/2020

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday highlighted the steps his administration is taking to address the coronavirus pandemic as Alaska's COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new high.

The governor's office announced a list of state actions in response to the pandemic, including opening a new Alaska-based commercial testing lab and a pending purchase of 3.5 million pairs of gloves to resupply hospitals, clinics and communities running short.

Alaska's COVID-19 numbers are accelerating rapidly. The number of patients hospitalized with the virus topped 60 for the first time Wednesday. The state's seven-day new case rate per capita is among the nation's worst, though the per capita death rate remains one of the lowest.

Dunleavy on Wednesday repeated a mantra from several previous weekly briefings: The virus is highly infectious but the state's average hospital stay and death rates are falling. He urged Alaskans to renew efforts to wear masks, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings and wash their hands until a vaccine is available.

Dunleavy reiterated his assertion that higher case counts aren't surprising given the increasing interactions people are having with one another, saying the virus is "not something to be terrified of" and state officials are watching hospital capacity closely.

[In urgent plea, Anchorage officials and business representatives say what happens next with COVID-19 rests in public's hands]

Dunleavy said he has tested negative for the virus four times in the past 10 days. Four members of his staff tested positive earlier this month.

"The virus is real," he said. "It's going to be a pain for all of us for the next few months until the vaccinations come online, but if we all work a little bit together like we did this spring and summer, we can get this acceleration rate down ..."

Dunleavy, who in July ordered face coverings in state buildings but has declined to order a statewide mask mandate, on Wednesday reiterated his opposition, saying that's a decision best made at the local level. He said the efficacy of masks is still in question, which contradicts statements made previously by top state public health officials.

There are growing calls for a mandate, including from Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, who expressed her support Wednesday.

"We know that masks protect us and that they save lives and that they protect the economy," Quinn-Davidson said during a briefing that featured business leaders and hospital administrators imploring residents to wear masks and step up efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

City officials, in a briefing with a more urgent tone Wednesday, announced a public health advisory warning that the ongoing rate of COVID-19 transmission "risks exceeding Anchorage's public health and hospital capacity."

[Tracking COVID-19 in Alaska: One death and 353 new cases reported Wednesday]

Dunleavy's office on Wednesday afternoon issued a press release detailing "continued measures" by the governor and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services in partnership with federal and local officials "to prevent, slow, and otherwise disrupt the spread of COVID-19." It wasn't immediately clear if all of the items listed were new actions or ongoing ones.

Along with the purchase of gloves and the new testing lab, some of the other significant items include using the National Guard and University of Alaska Anchorage to conduct contact tracing; a new testing site in Nome; expanded work by the state's Infection Prevention Team at assisted living and skilled nursing facilities; and numerous testing machines and supplies, as well as improving the supply chain "to allow small and mid-size hospitals who can't compete with vendors the ability to purchase equipment" from the state health department.

The state health department also announced the establishment of a web-based platform to address worker shortages at assisting living homes or personal care agencies.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced this week that federal officials are shipping 220,000 rapid-response COVID-19 tests to Alaska.


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