How well does hunkering down work? Time will tell. 

Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, speaks at a news conference Monday, March 23, 2020. (Creative Commons photo by Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

Alaska’s chief medical officer and an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more evidence is coming that will inform policymakers’ public health mandates.

They spoke during an extended press conference on COVID-19 Wednesday night organized by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Dunleavy did not issue a shelter-in-place order for the state, though many local leaders in Alaska have imposed versions for their communities.

Dr. Jay Butler is the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, and formerly Alaska’s chief medical officer. Butler said it’s unclear how long hunkering down measures will be recommended or mandated. But in another week or so, he said, the CDC may have the data to gauge how effective hunkering down is at curbing new cases.

“In terms of what’s happening in the United States, we’re probably only about a week into — in some parts of the country — doing that kind of hunkering down,” Butler said, calling into the meeting from Atlanta. “The cases that are being diagnosed now were most likely acquired seven to 10 days ago. So we’re only at the point where we might begin to see some impact from the steps that had been taken.”

He said the CDC is monitoring the numbers and impact very closely in places like New York City. He called it “an ongoing analytic process” that will inform the CDC’s guidance. That puts policymakers in Alaska, where the outbreak is several days younger than other hotspots in the country, in a better position to flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming the health care system.

How those cases get identified — testing — has been a major bottleneck in the COVID-19 response globally.

At the national level, Butler said, a lot of the work being done to open that bottleneck is in the private sector. He said he couldn’t offer a timeline for when that would change, but said companies are working hard at it.


In Alaska, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said testing capabilities are improving, including a one-day spike of over 600 tests on Tuesday.

”We’re seeing a sort of an exponential climb in the testing, which we like to see,” Zink said. “We see that increasingly climb. So we are working through those bottlenecks here.”

She said a lack of swabs used in testing had been a major limiting factor for Alaska. They’re now being produced in state, and the state received a shipment of 4,000 on Wednesday.

Dunleavy was asked when he would mandate Alaskans stay at home.

“When our medical team says … that that is a trigger we absolutely have to pull,” he said.

Zink said her recommendations have to do with how Alaskans act.

“So when people stop moving, and they respect that? We don’t have to mandate it,” she said.“But when people continue to do it, we have to mandate it. So we are trying really hard to explain the purpose and the reasoning of this. We are Alaskans, we pride ourselves on being free and independent and making those decisions. But this virus isn’t going to be stopped by any one of us. It’s going to be stopped by all of us working together.”

The state’s latest counts, public health mandates and other resources are available at coronavirus.alaska.gov.

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