Alaska records first case of coronavirus infection as more shutdowns are announced in the state

Local news reports identified the patient as a crew member of a cargo flight.

By Yereth Rosen - March 13, 2020
A UPS 747 takes off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in 2013. The airport is an major global air cargo hub. (BriYYZ / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr)

Alaska officials on March 12 announced the state’s first case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that is causing a disruptive pandemic.

The patient was a foreign national who was passing through Anchorage, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference.

“This is an international traveler that was traveling quite a bit internationally prior to coming in here,” she said. He had just recently come to Alaska, was monitoring his health, contacted a provider when his symptoms worsened and went to a local hospital for treatment, she said. After treatment there, he was put into isolation in special housing and was in stable condition, she said.

The case does not pose the same kind of public risk that would be created by a community-generated infection, Zink said. “This is not someone who’s been wandering through the community, this is not someone who’s been shopping at the mall, this is not someone who was going out to eat,” she said.

Alaska news reports identified the patient as a crew member of a cargo flight.

Not counting this case, Alaska had 52 people tested at state public health facilities and another 7 tested at commercial or academic labs as of Wednesday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Along with the revelation about the single COVID-19 patient, government officials on Wednesday announced a new series of cancellations, closures and other precautions.

The University of Alaska system announced that is has added a second week to its spring break and is preparing to shift classes to online formats where possible. University leaders have asked students housed in campus dormitories to move back home for the remainder of the academic year.

Alaska Pacific University, a much smaller university in Anchorage, announced similar measures. And the Anchorage School District announced that it has extended its spring break and will investigate options for online instruction after that.

Some of the cancellations and postponements affect the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which started on March 8 in Anchorage, and remains one of the few high profile sporting events still taking place, after major sports leagues in North America and Europe suspended play.

The Iditarod Trail Committee on Wednesday announced that the post-race musher awards banquet scheduled for Sunday, March 22, will be postponed. No new date was provided. Also postponed by the committee was a traditional musher “Meet-and-Greet” event that was scheduled for March 21.

Nome will be a quieter place for Iditarod mushers in other ways.

Nome’s city council, meeting in an emergency session, decided to cancel all city-sponsored Iditarod events. The biggest event that was canceled was the annual Lonnie O’Connor Iditarod Basketball Classic, a tournament that draws hundreds of participants from around the state.

That tournament is among a long list of community events scheduled for the week when the mushers are expected to reach the Nome finish line and when the Bering Strait town is packed with tourists. The council also took action to close several public buildings, including the Nome Recreation Center and the building that houses Nome’s museum, cultural center and library.