Should you attend that party or community event? State of Alaska shares recommendations for summer gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JUNE 5, 2020 – Your son’s friend has a birthday party coming up and your son really wants to go.

You’ve been invited to a neighborhood potluck for the Fourth of July. That’s 20 households up and down your street and everyone plans to share food and drinks.

You’ve seen an announcement for a fun run, a parade or a concert where hundreds may gather.

We’ve been hunkered down for months, and people are wanting to get together. Do you go ahead with that birthday party, neighborhood potluck, concert or fun run? And if you do, what can you do to reduce the chances of getting sick or spreading COVID-19 among the guests?

“The safest thing is for us to all be in a bubble and to not interact ever together, but that is also not how you live,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer. “So what ways are we able to live and be meaningful and mindful, while minimizing the chances of making others sick?”

The state is reopening, but Zink reminds Alaskans that “open” doesn’t mean “over.” COVID-19, the virus that’s led to a worldwide pandemic, is not gone. It is still spreading from person to person in Alaska communities and will continue to do so if people don’t take steps to prevent transmission: keep distance from others, wear face coverings in public, wash hands and surfaces, and stay home when sick. Those steps should be taken if you attend gatherings of any size — even if those attending are your friends and family members who are outside your household or small social bubble.

Here’s why: Gatherings of all sizes increase the chances of spreading COVID-19, and those chances go up as the number of attendees go up. A recent summary by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed how several types of interactions in recent months led to COVID-19 spreading quickly. One of those interactions is attending large gatherings. The State of Alaska and CDC have provided guidance about organizing large events.

But smaller gatherings can spread illness, too. Just in the past week, a number of new COVID-19 infections have been connected to get-togethers and parties that took place in Alaska communities. In some cases, people came to the gatherings from other communities, even other states. Some people had close contact at these parties.

Leslie Felts is an Alaska public health nurse manager who is helping to trace possible contacts of people infected with COVID-19. She’s noted several types of interactions at these gatherings that can increase the chances of spreading infection: Some people stood near others and had lingering conversations. Some hugged or kissed each other. Some drove in the same car as others, lengthening close contact with people outside their household.

“People are social and they want to get together,” Zink said. “Gathering helps us feel hopeful and connected during a really hard time, but we have to do it as safely as possible. This is not the time to have close contact and face-to-face conversations with others at large or small get-togethers. It’s the time to be creative, to come up with new ways to see people and socialize but still keep distance from others.”

Creative approaches to encourage physical distancing might mean drawing chalk markings on streets, sidewalks and driveways to help people see what 6 feet of minimum distance looks like at gatherings. Check out this idea used at a San Francisco park to show spacing among people. Some venues have blocked off rows of seats between non-household groups to space people apart.

Safe gatherings in Alaska during COVID pandemic

Zink, Felts and Alaska epidemiologists discussed gatherings and community events this week with Play Every Day.

What kind of get-togethers fall under gatherings and community events?

These get-togethers can range in size. They could include birthday parties, graduation celebrations, neighborhood block parties, weddings, funerals, and other get-togethers with family and friends. On the larger side, they could include parades, sports events and fun runs, fairs and concerts.

The State of Alaska recently published lessons learned and guidance for organizers planning large gatherings that include more than 250 people. This number includes all attendees during the entire course of the event, such as participants, spectators, players, performers, staff, vendors, volunteers, security, medical personnel and others.

Your family has been invited to a gathering. Should you go?

As Alaska reopens, your family can make a choice after considering a number of factors. Here are just a few questions to consider:

  • Is the gathering inside or outside?
  • How large is it, and will you be able to keep enough space between you and others?
  • Have the other attendees been following the recommended precautions to prevent getting and spreading illness?
  • Are attendees encouraged to wear face coverings and to stay home if feeling ill?
  • If food and drink are served, are they being shared in a way that helps prevent the spread of infection? One example to prevent the spread of illness would be having one chosen cook at the event who wears a face covering and serves food and drinks to everyone, limiting the number of people who touch the serving utensils. Or, people attending the event could be asked to bring their own food and drink and not share it with others.
  • Will you be able to wash or sanitize your hands, and will hosts or organizers be cleaning and disinfecting commonly-touched surfaces like doorknobs, handles or tabletops?

Overall, outdoor gatherings typically have a lower risk of spreading illness due to the air flow and amount of open space for distance. But outdoor events still must offer other precautions in order to prevent spreading COVID-19. That includes giving people enough space to stay at least 6 feet from others, recommending or even providing face coverings when people may get closer than 6 feet, offering enough hand washing and sanitizing stations, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and more.

How can you adjust your interactions with others at gatherings to prevent spreading illness?

Human interactions aren’t typically described using math, but Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist, laid out an equation for how these interactions can lead to spreading illness:

The likelihood of an interaction spreading illness is a function of distance and time.

When someone gets a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, a public health nurse quickly reaches out to that person to find out with whom they had close contact. Distance is defined as close contact — being within 6 feet of someone. Time is typically important when it’s for 15 or more minutes, McLaughlin said. Again, distance and time.

But it doesn’t always look as simple as that, McLaughlin said. Consider that an infected person is at a gathering, and a number of people are in that same room. Someone may be farther away than 6 feet from the infected person, but in the same general area for an hour or more. That lengthy exposure could lead to spreading infection to others in the area. Or, you might be within 6 feet of an infected person for just a few seconds — but during that time the infected person sneezes or coughs into your face. The time part of that equation is now significantly shorter, but that one sneeze or cough may be enough to spread the virus.

Given all of that, McLaughlin, Felts and others recommended adjusting your interactions at gatherings to prevent spreading illness:

  • Keep a 6-foot distance from others who are not part of your household or small social bubble — even if they are good friends or family members.
  • Don’t share cars on the way to or from gatherings and don’t linger within 6 feet of others at the gathering.
  • Don’t stay in one place for long. Moving around encourages air flow around you and can help prevent spreading the virus. Gathering outside — but still at a distance — is usually safer than spending time with others in an enclosed space.
  • Bring your own chairs, plates, silverware, glasses, food, drinks and hand sanitizer.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands often.
  • Stay home if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 and encourage others to do the same. Possible symptoms include fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, and other symptoms listed on this CDC website.

Should you wear face coverings at parties and gatherings?

Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth when you are within 6 feet of “others.” In this case, “others” includes people who don’t live in your household or are not part of your small, trusted social bubble. At the end of this Q and A, you’ll find a reminder about the social bubble concept for Alaska.

You typically come within 6 feet of others when you’re talking to people, receiving or giving food and drinks, or standing in lines. COVID-19 can be a sneaky virus, infecting some people without causing symptoms. Those infected people can spread the virus through their respiratory droplets without even realizing they have COVID-19. Infected people wearing face coverings are less likely to spread the virus to others. Healthy people wearing face coverings are less likely to catch the virus from others. If everyone who is able to wear a face covering does so when they’re in close contact with others, the possibility of COVID-19 spreading is greatly reduced. Face coverings should not be used by children under 2 or those who would have difficulty breathing with a covering in place.

It’s your nephew’s birthday and you want to show that you love him. You want to congratulate the bride. Can you give them a hug, kiss or handshake at these gatherings?

Right now, the best way to show others you care about them is to give them space instead of giving them a hug, kiss or handshake. Again, some people have COVID-19 with no symptoms or minor symptoms, so they don’t realize they’re sick. If they hug or have close contact with others, they could spread a virus they don’t know they have. No one wants to unintentionally make a friend or loved one sick.

Should you attend a get-together or community event if you have higher chances of serious illness related to COVID-19?

People in higher-risk groups should talk with their health care provider about attending get-togethers and large events. That includes people who are 65 or older and those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities. It also includes people who have ongoing health problems, such as heart and lung conditions, asthma, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, cancer, severe obesity and other conditions that may weaken the immune system.

Slightly expanding your social bubble is a way to stay connected without gatherings. What’s the safest way to create that trusted bubble?

Alaska families, individuals and couples may be feeling lonely and needing more social contact with others right now. Those households can consider adding one other trusted household to their social bubble. If you do choose to expand your bubble, Zink advises keeping that bubble small with the same members over time. She strongly cautions against mixing bubbles. Creating a slightly larger bubble requires a special agreement between households. Members of this new bubble must agree not to join another bubble, because if one person in your group gets the virus, it will likely infect others, too. Everyone within the bubble must agree to follow health and safety precautions, like minimizing interactions outside their bubble and staying at least 6 feet away from people outside the bubble. This concept is further explained in this recent Play Every Day blog.

Read the entire Play Every Day blog online.

Play Every Day is a campaign with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight and encourage families to be physically active and choose healthy drinks. For more information, visit www.playeveryday.alaska.gov.

Eight new cases of COVID-19 reported in five Alaska communities; 18 nonresident cases identified

June 4, 2020 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) today announced eight new cases of COVID-19 in five communities: Anchorage (4), Homer (1), Soldotna (1), Big Lake (1) and Anchor Point (1). This brings the total number of Alaska cases to 513.

In addition to the Alaska cases, 18 nonresident cases were identified yesterday, 17 of which are in the seafood industry. Eleven are in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area; three are in the Aleutians West Census Area; one is in the Kenai Peninsula Borough; one is in the Municipality of Anchorage; one is in Kodiak Island Borough; and one “other industry” case is in the Sitka City and Borough. This brings the total nonresident cases, which are listed separately from the Alaska cases, to 41.

All three of the Aleutians West Census Area cases are in the seafood industry in Unalaska. The asymptomatic workers were in quarantine at the time of testing and tested according to their employer’s workforce protection plan.

The eleven cases in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area are in seafood workers in Whittier. The City of Whittier and Whittier Seafoods are both working together and in coordination with DHSS to respond to the cluster of cases. After arriving in Whittier, the workers were quarantined, screened daily and tested. When one worker tested positive, additional testing was immediately initiated to identify the other positive cases and track close contacts. All individuals are now isolated, being monitored and receiving appropriate medical care. The workers have been quarantined on their employer’s campus since arriving in Whittier. The Whittier Clinic is offering testing daily to community members. The clinic is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and individuals do not need to have symptoms to be eligible for testing.

Please note the Whittier cases were initially reported on the data dashboard as Kenai Peninsula Borough cases. Those cases will be corrected to the Valdez-Cordova Census Area with the next update.

“These cases underscore the importance of following proper quarantine procedures, screening workers, testing multiple times and following the procedures outlined in workforce protection plans,” said Dr. Anne Zink. “These actions help keep our communities safe, but all Alaskans should continue to maintain social distancing and keep social circles small. We can’t underscore that enough. The more mixing occurs, the more we will continue to see these outbreaks.”

Of the new Alaska cases, five are male and three are female. One is under the age of 10; two are aged 20-29; one is aged 30-39; two are aged 50-59; one is aged 60-69; and one is 80 or older. There have been a total of 48 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with one new hospitalization and no new deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases now total 376, with three new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 60,097 tests have been conducted.

This report reflects data from 12:00 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on June 3 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub. Also note that upon further investigation and interviews, data points for cases – such as the date and residence – may on occasion change on the data dashboard after they are announced.

Stay informed

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Nonresident Positive COVID-19 Case In Sitka

June 4, 2020 – Sitka Unified Command has received information from Public Health Officials that there has been a nonresident positive test result for COVID-19 in Sitka.  The patient was self-isolating following travel to Sitka from out of State.

The confirmed male patient received COVID-19 testing upon visiting the Mountainside Family Clinic alternate testing tent on Tuesday, June 2nd. The patient went to the Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center Emergency Department with symptoms and was isolated. Once clinically stable, the patient was discharged to continue quarantine. An investigation is currently underway to identify the source of the virus. Public Health Officials will notify and isolate additional persons as appropriate. According to Public Health Officials this case will be classified as a nonresident case and not apply to Sitka’s case count.  

Sitka Unified Command urges citizens to adhere to all state mandates and to remain diligent and practice the health measures we’ve all learned in recent weeks and months: wash your hands often, avoid close contact with others and keep your social circle small, stay home if you feel ill, wear a face covering when around others, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces on a regular basis.

COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu – fever, aching, cough, shortness of breath, and sometimes decreased sense of taste and smell. If you are concerned you might have contracted the coronavirus contact the COVID hotline at 966.8799 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Outside of normal clinic hours, patients can contact the SEARHC 24/7 Nurse Advice Line at 1.800.613.0560 to be triaged by a registered nurse. 

Additional information on COVID-19 is available through the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) at  https://covid19.alaska.gov/ and SEARHC at www.covid19.searhc.org.

If you are not sick, please continue to take precautionary measures to stay healthy:

  • Get your flu shot. The flu shot will not prevent COVID-19 but will help prevent you from getting sick and reduce the workload on the healthcare system.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after your blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, put distance between yourself and other people outside of your home, do not gather in groups and minimize your actions with others, stay out of crowded places and avoid mass gatherings, and keep your social circle small.
  • Stay home if you feel ill, and always cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily (e.g. phones, tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles).
  • Wear a face covering, in particular in public settings. For more information on cloth face coverings visit http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/coveryourface.aspx

Residents are encouraged to prepare for any local emergency by ensuring each family member has a 14- day emergency supply kit, including any necessary medications.

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*Travel Notice* Revisions to Health Mandate 10 – Effective June 5 at 11:55 p.m.

Beginning Friday June 5, 2020 at 11:55 p.m. travelers arriving into Alaska from another state or country are required to follow new protocols.

All travelers must:

*** complete a traveler declaration form
https://covid19.alaska.gov/…/06032020-Mandate-10-Travel-dec…

AND

*** arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within the last 72 hours and present results upon arrival.

OR

*** participate in a COVID-19 PCR test when you arrive in Alaska, and self-quarantine at your expense until results arrive. Alaska Testing Sites Locator: https://coronavirus-response-alaska-dhss.hub.arcgis.com/…/2…

OR

*** self-quarantine for 14 days at your expense or the duration of your trip whichever is shorter.

OR

*** follow the work plan that your employer filed with the State of Alaska.

Read the new rules at the State of Alaska COVID-19 Traveler Information page: https://covid19.alaska.gov/travelers/

To read Health Mandate 10 visit:
https://covid19.alaska.gov/…/MANDATE-010-REVISED-06.03.20.p…

To contact the Sitka Public Information Officer call 747-1899 or email pio@cityofsitka.org.

18 new cases of COVID-19 reported in eight Alaska communities; one nonresident case in Anchorage

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) today announced 18 new cases of COVID-19 in eight communities: Anchorage (5), Homer (4), Wasilla (3), Eagle River (2), Soldotna (1), Palmer (1), Kenai Peninsula Borough (1) and Big Lake (1). This brings the total number of Alaska cases to 505.

This report reflects data from 12:00 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on June 2 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

Kenai Peninsula Borough announced today that three individuals at the Nikiski Fire Department have tested positive for COVID-19 and other members have been quarantined due to their potential exposure. Providence Health & Services Alaska is providing updates about the cases at the Providence Transitional Care Center on their website. The Section of Epidemiology and Public Health Nursing continue to assist these communities and organizations with their investigations and contact tracing.

Of the new Alaska cases, five are male and 13 are female. Three are aged 10-19; three are aged 20-29; two are 30-39; one is aged 40-49; three are aged 50-59; two are aged 60-69; three are aged 70-79; and one is 80 or older. There have been a total of 47 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases now total 373, with two new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 58,183 tests have been conducted.

One new nonresident case was identified in a seafood worker in Anchorage. The person was detected through testing at the airport on their arrival and has been in self-quarantine. The case is listed separately from the total Alaska case count as the person is not a resident of Alaska. The nonresident cases now total 23, of which 15 are in the seafood industry.

Stay informed

Questions about COVID-19?

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20 new cases of COVID-19 reported in four Alaska communities; one new nonresident case in Valdez-Cordova Census Area

June 2, 2020 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) today announced 20 new cases of COVID-19 in four communities: Anchorage (15), City of Kenai (3), Homer (1) and Nikiski (1). This brings the total number of Alaska cases to 487.

This report reflects data from 12:00 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on June 1 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

One of the Anchorage cases is a recently admitted youth at the McLaughlin Youth Center. Upon notification of the result, the DHSS Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) immediately began medical isolation measures for the resident. DJJ’s nursing director is working directly with the Alaska Section of Epidemiology and Anchorage Health Department to promptly determine which staff and residents should receive testing, as well as acting on all other recommended protective measures.

Since April 28, 2020, DJJ has been testing all newly admitted youth to their facilities and requiring them to quarantine for 14 days after admission. These actions were taken based on the Section of Epidemiology’s testing guidelines for asymptomatic residents admitted to congregate living facilities. DJJ is committed to keeping staff and residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the new Alaska cases, eight are male and 12 are female. Three are under the age of 10; one is aged of 10-19; six are aged 20-29; five are 30-39; one is aged 40-49; three are aged 50-59 and one is 80 or older. There have been a total of 47 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases now total 371, with three new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 56,203 tests have been conducted.

One new nonresident was identified in a seafood worker in the Valdez-Cordova Census Area. The case is listed separately from the total Alaska case count since the person is not a resident of Alaska. The nonresident cases now total 22, of which 14 are in the seafood industry.

Stay informed

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Travel Quarantine Extended through June 5

The State of Alaska travel quarantine related to Health Mandate 10.1 has been extended through June 5 at 11:59 PM.

All people arriving in Alaska, whether resident, worker, or visitor, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for illness. Arriving residents and workers in self-quarantine, should work from home, unless you support critical infrastructure as outlined in the Alaska Essential Services and Critical Workforce Infrastructure Order (formerly Attachment A).

Beginning at 12 a.m. on Saturday, June 6, proof of a negative result on a qualifying COVID-19 test obtained before arriving in Alaska allows anyone entering the state (residents, visitors and workers) to get started on their vacation or business right away without a 14-day quarantine. This must be a PCR test, not an antibody or serology test. If you can’t get tested before traveling, some testing will be available at airports but travelers must self-quarantine until negative test results come back. If you choose not to be tested, you’ll need to go through the full 14-day quarantine.

Further updates to Mandate 10 regarding COVID-19 testing are expected to be provided by June 5th and will be available at: https://covid19.alaska.gov/health-mandates/

Seven new cases of COVID-19 reported in four Alaska communities

June 1, 2020 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) today announced seven new cases of COVID-19 in four communities: Anchorage (3), Kenai Peninsula Borough (2), Homer (1) and City of Kenai (1). This brings the total number of Alaska cases to 467. There are no new nonresident cases.

This report reflects data from 12:00 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on May 31 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

Of the new Alaska cases, five are male and two are female. Two are under the age of 10; one is aged of 10-19; one is aged 20-29; one is aged 30-39; and two are aged 50-59. There have been a total of 47 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases total remains at 368, with no new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 54,190 tests have been conducted.

The Municipality of Anchorage and Providence Health & Services Alaska issued a joint press release providing more details on the Anchorage cases at the Providence Transitional Care Center which were included in yesterday’s Alaska case count.

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27 new cases of COVID-19 reported in eight Alaska communities

May 31, 2020 ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) today announced 27 new cases of COVID-19 in eight communities: Anchorage (12), Wasilla (4), Kenai (3), Eagle River (3), Homer (2), Soldotna (1), Kenai Peninsula Borough (1) and Anchor Point (1).

This report reflects data from 12:00 a.m. until 11:59 p.m. on May 30 that posted at noon today on the Alaska Coronavirus Response Hub.

Of the new Alaska cases, 14 are male and 13 are female. Four are aged of 10-19; five aged 20-29; three are aged 30-39; three are aged 40-49; three are aged 50-59; four are aged 60-69; two are aged 70-79; and three are aged 80 or older. There have been a total of 47 hospitalizations and 10 deaths with no new hospitalizations or deaths reported yesterday. Recovered cases now total 368, with no new recovered cases recorded yesterday. A total of 53,063 tests have been conducted.

One new nonresident case was identified in a seafood industry worker in the Dillingham Census Area. After further investigation, the Homer case reported for May 29 has been determined to be in a visitor, not a resident of Alaska, so it has been subtracted from the total Alaska case count and added to the nonresident case total. Including the May 30 cases, this brings the total Alaska case count to 460 and the total nonresident cases to 21.

A joint press conference with Governor Dunleavy, DHSS, Municipality of Anchorage and Providence Health & Services Alaska will be held later today to discuss the high number of cases.

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