State medical officer encourages Alaskans to wear homemade masks

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink speaks during a news conference about COVID-19 on March 25. (Creative Commons photo by Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy)

UpdateTegan Hanlon, Alaska Public Media, and Rashah McChesney, KTOO

Alaska’s chief medical officer is encouraging Alaskans to wear homemade masks when they go out in public, as the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to grow.

Dr. Anne Zink said it’s one of several things Alaskans can do to help limit the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“We’re encouraging people — if you’re going to go out in public, if you’re going to go to the grocery store — to consider wearing a tightly-woven homemade mask to be able to minimize the spread, in case you are asymptomatic or early symptomatic,” she said.

Zink made the recommendation at a Thursday evening news conference, where Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave an update on the number of confirmed cases in the state.

By Thursday, 147 people have tested positive, up from 143 cases a day earlier.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations increased by four, to a total of 13, “and thank goodness, no additional deaths,” Dunleavy said.

Three Alaskans died in March after they were diagnosed with COVID-19 — two in state and one out of state.

Both Dunleavy and Zink thanked Alaskans for the efforts they’ve taken so far to try to help slow the spread of the virus, including social distancing. Dunleavy said Alaskans are buying the state time to build up its health care system in preparation for a peak of cases.

“What Alaskans are doing right now is literally saving lives, and we just cannot thank you enough,” Zink said. “We’re not far enough into this to let up the gas yet. We really need to hold that curve.”

Zink underscored that Alaskans should wear handmade masks and keep medical masks for health care providers. She also said people need to remember to stay at least 6 feet away from others — if not more. She reminded Alaskans to wash their hands often and clean their surfaces.

More than 5,500 COVID-19 tests have been performed in Alaska.

Original story — Rashah McChesney, KTOO

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state's COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on March 20, 2020.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on March 20, 2020. Also pictured: Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, and an unidentified sign language interpreter. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest COVID-19 press conference is scheduled for 5 p.m.

The governor, Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink have been holding these briefings almost daily since March 10.

During this one, Zink will explain how the state’s new COVID-19 data tools work.

In previous briefings, administration officials has shared updates on the number of people in the state with confirmed cases, announced public health mandates and explained the administration’s strategy and rationale.

To date, they’ve imposed 12 public health mandates that have reshaped daily life across Alaska to combat the spread of the virus. Those mandates and other Alaska-specific COVID-19 resources and information are available at coronavirus.alaska.gov.

You can watch today’s press conference live on this post, the governor’s Facebook or Livestream pages, or on 360 North television.

The headline for this story has been updated.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect an adjustment in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported by the state of Alaska. There were 147 confirmed cases in Alaska by Thursday, not 151.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the state had issued 10 public health mandates as of Thursday. The state had issued 12 mandates by then.