Watch: Governor announces Alaska’s first coronavirus case

Alaska officials said Thursday that they’ve confirmed the state’s first coronavirus case.

“Again no reason to panic, no reason to get upset. We’re going to have more cases as time goes on,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a Thursday evening press conference.

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the case was in an international traveler who had flown into Anchorage. She called it an “isolated case” that was identified Thursday afternoon. It’s a “presumptive positive,” she said, meaning that the lab case will be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation.

Zink said the patient kept himself apart from others, and called his health care provider. He went to the emergency room at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, which was prepared for his arrival.

“He knew about the virus that causes COVID-19,” Zink said. “He was monitoring himself, and as soon as he developed any symptoms that could be potentially consistent with it, this individual protected themself, called ahead and was able to be seen and assessed.”

Zink had warned that the first cases of the disease were likely to appear in the state soon, given the rapid spread of the coronavirus around the world.

The state has been posting the number of tests daily. As of Thursday afternoon, 59 patients had been tested.

Across Alaska, coronavirus concerns have canceled events, suspended travel and disrupted the economy. The Anchorage School District announced Thursday that all of its schools will remain closed for at least a week after spring break. The University of Alaska system is extending spring break, moving most classes online, canceling events and asking students to leave on-campus dorms.

Across the country, there were more than 1,200 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, by Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 450 cases, including 31 deaths, were reported in Washington state, and almost all were in the greater Seattle area, which is a hub for travelers flying to and from Alaska.

The CDC say the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is still thought to be low for most of the American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to the coronavirus. People in communities where the virus is spreading face elevated risk, depending on their location, the CDC says.

Serious illness appears to occur in about 15% of cases, the CDC says, citing a report from China, where the coronavirus originated. The agency recommends that people get the flu vaccine and take everyday steps to prevent the spread of germs: avoiding close contact with sick people, staying at home when sick and washing hands or using hand sanitizer.

If you’ve been in an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or if you’ve been in close contact with a person known to have the disease, and you develop a fever and a cough or difficulty breathing, the CDC says to call ahead before seeing a medical professional.

This story has been updated.

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